Hefner continues hot start, then stops
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
With his family watching, Madera Coyotes baseball player Brian Hefner, middle. signs his National Letter of Intent to Fresno Pacific University in 2018. From left are are mother Suzy, sister Brielle, Hefner, grandmother Anna Hardy and father Brian.
Former Madera Coyotes baseball standout Brian Hefner was continuing his sophomore year at Fresno Pacific University right where he left off as a freshman.
Then, in an instant, his season was canceled.
Hefner batted .288 last season and led the team with six home runs, 14 doubles, 85 total bases and a .480 slugging percentage to also go with 11 stolen bases to tie for the team lead.
This season, Hefner was batting .309 with five doubles and 12 RBIs to go with 13 runs scored and five stolen bases.
“I picked up from last year. We had a very good team during the fall practices. I was so excited. Our team was looking way better than we were last year. I was doing all right. I was the only one out of my batting practice teammates not to hit a home run.”
Hefner, who really hasn’t touched a baseball since his season was canceled is back in Madera.
“I’ve been working out,” Hefner said. “They closed the school and dorms so I’m back in Madera.”
Before his season was suspended, Hefner and the Sunbirds were in Southern California to face Azusa Pacific in the second PacWest Conference series of the season.
On March 12, a night game was rained out and the next day, the season was suspended.
“On the bus ride there, we got an e-mail that the Div. I schools were closing,” Hefner said. “I was thinking no way. I figured if the Div. I canceled their season, I figured we were next. The next day, there was an announcement that the Pacific West Conference season was suspended. We were supposed to return a few weeks later to resume the series, but the whole season got canceled the week after that. We were about to win the series, but couldn’t do that.”
At first, Hefner said the conference told the team they were suspending games for a couple of weeks.
“We thought we would have a few weeks of practice without games,” he said. “A couple of days after that, we found out everything else was canceled. I couldn’t believe it. Baseball, NBA and I still can’t believe. It’s wild everything is closed down.”
Although campus is closed, Hefner still regularly attends classes online.
“I have online classes,” he said. “They take attendance online so you have to go to classes anyway.”
Like with Div. I NCAA athletes, Hefner said he will get a year of eligibility back playing for the Div. II Sunbirds.
“You have to say you want it and go sign something,” he said. “We can all get a year back. I’m not sure all our seniors are coming back. One is coming back to finish a couple of classes. The other seniors are graduating, but I’m not too sure. We have new recruits coming in. We’ll see how it goes.”
Last season, Hefner played every game, primarily at first base. However, this season, Hefner made the switch to right field, a position he never played during his days at Madera.
“The coach wanted to get me as much playing experience as I could the first year,” Hefner said. “We didn’t have a first baseman. I was playing outfield this whole year. It was a big change. I only played outfield in high school in a couple of practices. I got used to playing in right field. It took me a couple of series. I fractured my ankle in the second series and was running around there on a broke ankle. It’s fine now. It’s still swollen, but it doesn’t hurt to walk on it.”
Hefner made the switch to help the team. Since he felt he was athletic enough to adapt to the outfield, he asked the coach to make the switch to allow another bat in the line up.
“We had a senior who isn’t fast and the only position he could play was designated hitter and first base,” Hefner said “I said I could play the outfield, play him at first and have another hitter DH. I asked the coach at practice to take fungoes in the outfield. A week later I was starting in right field. I told him I wanted first base to be open. I was able to show off my arm a little bit.”
However, by playing the outfield, Hefner had to work on his focus more. At first base, he is closer to the action and is involved in almost every play. In right field, though, plays are fewer to come by.
“You have to learn how to stay focused,” he said. “I have to watch the baseball. Whenever you lose focus, it seems the ball gets hit to you. You have to be focused out there. A couple of times I forgot to back up a bag and got yelled at. It was a learning experience. It was cool, but way different than playing first base.”
The Sunbirds were 13-9 overall and 2-2 in the conference. Hefner felt this team could have been a conference-winning team.
“I have mixed feelings about it,” he said. “The year was going really good for us. I had a feeling we were going to win the conference. I feel kind of weird about it with everything just canceled for the year. Me and a couple of other guys on the team were hitting at All-League status. It sucks for them, too. It sucks for everyone.”
Hefner is in the second year at Fresno Pacific, majoring in business management.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do with that. I mainly went to school for baseball. It would be a good degree to have. I want to get into the business field and have my own business. I don’t know what it is. I still have a little bit of time to think about it.”