The story of Sean Laird’s baseball career cannot be told without the mention of numerous injuries that hampered his ability to perform.
By looking at his statistics, however, one would never know.
Three major injuries during his college days had the potential to wreck what was an up-and-coming star. But Laird will be remembered as a gamer for the way he gutted out his four years at the University of South Alabama.
“You just have to play through pain and adversity sometimes,” Laird said. “It was pretty tough. Injuries come as part of the game. Some guys get them, and some guys don’t. It all taught me how important it is to fight through adversity. I wouldn’t trade it for anything — you know, a lot of guys don’t get to play past high school. I was blessed to be able to play college baseball.”
For Laird, the injury trail started during his senior year at Kokomo High School. A fracture to his L4 and L5 vertebrae combined with torn muscles in his back limited his ability to perform, and he missed six games during the 2005 season. He didn’t find out about the fractures and muscle damage, though, until August before leaving for college when an MRI revealed the cause of his discomfort.
“I had already signed at South Alabama, and went into my freshman year of college looking to heal,” Laird said. “I took fall ball off and tried to get healthy for the 2006 season, and tried playing and couldn’t do it. The doctors told me that I needed at least another year [to heal], so I redshirted and sat out for what ended up being a total of 18 months.”
As a redshirt freshman in 2007, Laird batted .286 with six doubles and three homers in 112 at bats, and said that “it was nice just getting back into it.” He backed that performance up with a sophomore campaign in which he batted .320 with seven doubles and four homers in 122 at bats.
Then, the injury bug crept up on him again. He was hit by pitch in the middle of his junior season in 2009, shattering his right hand and forcing him to miss most of the second half of the year.
In 38 games as a junior, Laird hit .295 with 11 doubles, seven homers and 21 RBIs.
After the hand healed, like clockwork, Laird tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder in fall practices during his senior year, but still managed to play in all 59 games for the Jaguars, batting a team-high .350 with 17 doubles, nine homers and 54 RBIs, leading his team to a 32-27 record, 17-13 in Sun Belt Conference play. He primarily played right field despite the shoulder injury that makes throwing excruciatingly painful at times, and wound up in the top 10 in six different offensive categories in the Sun Belt Conference.
He was the Sun Belt’s player of the week for the week of March 2 this season, and ended his career as a .319 hitter with 23 homers, 110 RBIs and 41 doubles.
“It started with my back injury, and it seemed like it dominoed after that,” Laird said. “It was very frustrating, especially my junior year, because I felt like I was having a very good year. I got beaned and there’s nothing you can go about it when a guy is throwing 92.”
Laird stayed optimistic through it all, and said that he was blessed to have the opportunity to play for South Alabama, located in Mobile.
Among his favorite college memories are a game-winning hit against Mississippi his junior year, which gave coach Steve Kittrell his 1,000th career victory, and a walk-off home run against Auburn this past season.
“College baseball was a blast,” Laird said. “Getting a scholarship to go to school is like getting paid to play baseball.”
A four-time All-Howard County selection in high school, Laird is now working on his master’s degree in health education. He has an internship lined up with Omni Health and Fitness in the fall, and is looking to get his personal trainer’s license.
He hasn’t given up hope of continuing his baseball career, though. He will have surgery to repair his shoulder in July in hopes of possibly getting on with a professional team.
“I was hearing some things, and [scouts] were talking to coach Kittrell, and I’m sure they found out about my shoulder,” Laird said. “I won’t exactly know how long it will take to rehab until after I have the surgery. If I get through surgery and heal quickly, and someone wants to offer me contract, it would be fun to play.
“I definitely want to play baseball. I feel like the only reason I’m not playing right now is because I’m injured. I’d love to be playing minor league ball right, trying to work my way up the chain. Everything works out for a reason, and whatever God’s plan is for me, that’s what I’m going to go with. If its health education, if it’s being a personal trainer, or if it’s playing pro ball, I’ll be ready. We’ll find out after the surgery. It’ll be interesting.”
Wherever life takes him, he will always take fond memories of his days in Kokomo with him, and showered the Wildkat baseball program with praise.
“Kokomo has a rich history in stud ball players,” Laird said. “Being able to learn from guys older than me, and that competition — there’s always good ball players around. There’s always someone pushing you, and playing at Kokomo helped me push and get better and better every year.
“It would be nice to be remembered at all, but the biggest thing is that I worked hard no matter what happened. Whether it was adversity, or something going on in the game, I was always working hard. Hopefully, I’m remembered as a good guy.”