Kody Gardner is closing his senior year in style after rough start to college baseball career
Gardner’s play on the field has been stellar, with two conference player of the week awards, but his character is what stands out even more.
April 30, 2023
Kody Gardner had not played baseball for two and a half seasons after a slow start to his college baseball career. He now has earned two conference Player of the Week awards and leads a successful Gators baseball team.
A senior first baseman, Gardner is having his best season on the field, but the journey to get to this point was full of uncertainty. Gardner’s collegiate career began at Sacramento State University and it didn’t go to plan, and he later decided it was best to go to Sacramento City College.
After a year at Sacramento City College, he was going to head to San Jose State University, but a non-transferable credit would not allow him to be admitted. As new coaches and players at San Jose came in, Gardner was left in the dust.
SF State’s Head Baseball Coach Tony Schifano was recruiting Gardner when he was back in high school and heard Gardner had nowhere to play baseball, so he decided to recruit Gardner to SF State. Gardner was excited to be back playing the game he always loved.
“It was awesome, this was my third semester with no baseball so at this point, I know I am older. At times in my mind, I’m like ‘I guess I am done with baseball’ which was big because that is all I have done, my whole life was playing baseball,” said Gardner. “When he called me, I was fired up. I basically had to go start practicing on my own immediately because I hadn’t touched a baseball in a year and a half.”
During COVID-19, sports were at a lull, so Gardner saw the time as a chance to get back up to speed and get ready for the upcoming season.
“To get back in shape and to get back into a baseball mindset, even though it was a lot of time because we did not play a 2021 season either, I do think in the grand scheme of things that actually helped out,” Gardner said.
In the 2022 season, Gardner was still getting used to being back and playing. He batted .326 with no home runs and 14 runs batted in. He also played the entire season with a torn rotator cuff. This year, he is currently hitting .355 with five home runs and has already doubled his RBI total this season, with 30.
This season, he has the fifth-best batting average, second most runs scored and is tied for second in home runs. He also leads the Gators in RBIs, leading them to a current record of 24-15.
Gardner explained that this group of guys is very cohesive and said this season has been the most fun he’s had playing baseball.
“100 percent the most fun, it is a combination of carelessness to where you are more and more accepting now of baseball as a game of failure, so mentally I am more accepting of if I get out or have a bad day of play it is perfectly okay,” Gardner said. “The combination of that and knowing that it is my last year of college baseball, so playing with a very free spirit and enjoying it and trying to make these memories last for as long as I can.”
“Part of it was the fields we were playing at and one of them was in Colorado with 6,000 feet elevation so I was able to have a really good weekend and I think I had three home runs that first weekend –– it did not take much to get the ball out of the park,” Gardner said. “You are swinging at more pitches because it’s your first weekend, so we won three out of four of those games.”
Not only is Gardner a bright spot on the field, but coach Schifano also talked about the personality of Gardner that makes him who he is.
“Kody has so much fun on the baseball field and he has so much fun on the bus rides,” Schifano said. “He will talk for eight hours straight and he sits a row behind me. There’s times when I will just turn and look at him four hours into a bus ride and I just need to sleep and I will say ‘Please Kody, just please’ and he will just smile and ask if I have headphones.”
One of Gardner’s traits is being a leader in the locker room. As a senior, he helps the younger players mesh into the college environment.
“Kody really taught me and showed me how to have fun playing baseball,” said freshman Nicholas Cook. “College sports can get very intense and have a lot of pressure surrounding it and when you watch Kody play, Kody’s playing to have fun and that’s kind of the one thing he teaches us, is to play with a smile. I think that is something that’s kind of lost sometimes in the game and I think he teaches and preaches that very well.”
The evolution of Gardner has come a long way and has been well recognized.
“Kody is as unique a ballplayer as I’ve ever had in my 16 years and it’s not just because of the long hair, the heavy metal music he listens to and the alteration he makes to every one of our apparel that I give him,” Schifano said. “Allow your players to be who they are, do not clone everybody to be what you think they should be.”
Gardner was never one to follow the crowd and always has had an effect on the people around him. Kids in school would start wearing clothes that Gardner would typically wear.
“Kody is a kid who always did his own thing, he found his way and led his own charge and I think because of that people just naturally follow, he ends up being the leader,” Kody’s mother, Juliet Gardner said. “He is very opinionated and he’s incredibly stubborn and thankfully it’s worked for him thus far.”
The unique story of Gardner’s hair came from a postponed concert.
“We bought tickets to see Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Poison, and Joan Jett, it was supposed to be in September 2020 and in December 2019, Kody had said he wanted to be authentic for the concert, and said he did not want to cut his hair,” said Juliet Gardner. “The pandemic hit and the concert got moved to 2022 and he has not cut his hair since 2019.”
Gardner was destined to play baseball as his middle name is Ryan because of the pitcher Nolan Ryan, who has the most strikeouts in the MLB. His name is spelled with a K for that reason.