Pictured above: Refsnyder makes a catch from his right field position during a College World Series game against South Carolina. (Photo courtesy of University of Arizona)
by JAY YIM
Although he wasn’t a New York Yankees fan while growing up in sunny Southern California, Robert Refsnyder always had an appreciation for their iconic shortstop, Derek Jeter.
“I just liked how [Jeter] played and liked how he came through in post-season moments,” Refsnyder told KoreAm last month. So in tribute to the Yankee superstar, Refsnyder chose to wear for the University of Arizona ballclub the same No. 2 jersey donned by Jeter. And at the 2012 College World Series, Refsnyder emulated the elder No. 2’s ability to come through in the clutch and provided his own post-season heroics for his Wildcats.
During Arizona’s first five games in Omaha, Neb., where the College World Series takes place annually in June, Refsnyder was a one-man wrecking crew. His .476 average (10 hits in 21 at-bats), including two home runs and five RBI, helped the Wildcats advance in the double-elimination tournament into the final series, where they faced the twotime defending champion University of South Carolina Gamecocks.
In the best-of-three championship series, Refsnyder once again made his presence felt by making key plays on offense and defense. His most notable contributions: belting a two-run opposite-field home run to right field (something that isn’t easily done at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, which has larger dimensions than most college stadiums) in Game 1; and singling in the top of the ninth inning and scoring the eventual championship-winning run in Game 2.
It was hardly a surprise when Refsnyder was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2012 College World Series. He also earned a spot on the College World Series All-Tournament Team, as Arizona claimed its fourth national baseball title and its first since 1986. “That’s the ultimate goal for a college baseball player,” said Refsnyder, after their championship-clinching victory in Game 2. “We got hot at the right time. To see your teammates pull together makes the event very special.”
Refsnyder, who served as the clean-up hitter for a very potent Wildcats lineup this season, finished the 2012 college baseball season with impressive numbers across the board. He hit .364 (the second highest mark on his team) with eight home runs and 66 RBI (both marks led the team). He also led the Pacific-12 Conference in total bases with 145, and he was named an All-Pacific-12 Conference team member for the second consecutive season.
Now, in addition to the stellar stats and the championship-winning moments, the 21-year-old Refsnyder shares something else with Derek Jeter: they both play for the same organization. On June, the New York Yankees nabbed Refsnyder in the fifth round (number 187 overall) of the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft. He got the call from a Yankee scout while walking through a Tucson mall with his girlfriend. Needless to say, he was excited. “To be drafted by the Yankees, there’s such a culture and tradition,” he told the New York Post. “This is what you dream about when you’re a little kid.”
After signing a contract worth $205,900 with his new club on July 6, it was thought that Refsnyder would be assigned to the Yankees’ Short Season Class-A minor league affiliate in Staten Island. Instead, he was sent to their Class-A team in Charleston, South Carolina, on July 10, which would prove to be an ironic twist of fate.
During the championship series against the University of South Carolina, Refsnyder and his family were the target of some racist taunts from some Gamecock supporters. He would go on Twitter and write that he would never want to live in South Carolina. He later deleted the comment and tweeted an apology. And in his first professional at-bat on July 10, he received a warm reception from the Charleston RiverDogs fans and promptly singled to right field.
“I apologize for generalizing a whole state, that’s so stupid and immature on my part,” Refsnyder told reporters. “But I won’t apologize for some of the things I said about trying to stick up for my family and things like that.”
The family that he was sticking up for consists of his Caucasian parents, Clint and Jane, who adopted him when he was 3 months old, after he was born in Seoul, and his older sister, Elizabeth, who is also a Korean adoptee and played softball at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. His parents, avid baseball junkies, played a big influence on his life, and he looks to honor them by giving his maximum effort every time he steps on the field. “Whenever you wear your family’s name or organization or school [on your uniform], you should play hard … because you’re representing a lot more than just yourself,” he told KoreAm.
Refsnyder belts his seventh home run of the season against Florida State during the College World Series.
Although Refsnyder manned right field the past two seasons at Arizona, the Yankees drafted him as a second basemen because, although scouts praise his natural hitting ability, he’s not considered to have enough power for playing the outfield at the major league level. However, in his first four games at Charleston, he has found himself back in his customary right field spot, and he’s still collecting hits, with at least one in his first three games. Refsnyder said the current plan is for him to stay in right field if he hits well enough. But he is more than willing to play any position.
“I honestly don’t have any care in the world where I play as long as I am playing baseball,” Refsnyder told KoreAm.
“Whatever the coaching [staff] wants, I’ll do. I’m most comfortable in right field but if they want to move me to left, third [base] or second, or anything … I’ll work the hardest that I can.”
This article was published in the August 2012 issue of KoreAm under the title “Making the Plays.” Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August issue, click below.