By Michael Crosson
To most collegiate baseball players, the big prize is a shot at the major leagues. For one Crusader, it is about playing the game he loves and making the team better.
Emery Atkisson is one of 30 members of the UMHB baseball team. He plays second base and shortstop. Atkisson is grateful for his position on a team. For a time, he wondered if he would ever be a college athlete again.
“The game finds a way to humble you. Although my shoulder injury was unfortunate, I have found a new love for the game and gained a greater understanding of life as well as the importance of a good work ethic,” says Atkisson.
Before the ballplayer’s injury, major league scouts from the Colorado Rockies and the Atlanta Braves franchises were following Atkisson.
“I had a set rehabilitation program at Stephen F. Austin, but I tried to push myself too hard, which ultimately prolonged my recuperation process. However, it has been two years since my surgery and my arm is feeling better than ever and I am ready for the 2015 season,” he said.
The idea of an athlete going from NCAA Division I to Division III means Atkisson has to work harder to prove he is still an elite player.
“The biggest difference between Division I and Division III is the lack of athletic perks in terms of scholarship opportunities. We are encouraged to play for the love of the game. The passion we have for this game will ultimately lead us to becoming a better team and better individuals in the long run. We play because we love it and we learn life lessons through the games of baseball,” Atkisson said.
Atkisson believes his work ethic and positive attitude toward the game of baseball is the most valuable attribute he brings to the team.
“My work ethic was compared to Robert Griffin III in high school, I feel like that is what I bring most to this team,” he said.
Atkisson is excited for the opportunity to be a more vocal leader for the team.
“When baseball is good, Emery is good and I plan on having a very good spring,” Atkisson said.
If this team can push itself not only in beating Concordia or LeTourneau Universities, but in getting to the Division III College Baseball World Series in Wisconsin, then this team can become one of the elite Division III programs in the nation.
Chase Burrow, is also a member of the baseball team and plays left field. He said Atkisson brings a sense of an improved work ethic.
“He has helped me stay level headed and has challenged me spiritually,” Burrow said.
Since returning to team play he has improved mentally in terms of attitude and tried to emerge as more of a vocal leader.
“Emery wants to be that guy to fire us up and lead us. He has great character and to be the guy the team can look to when it is crunch time,” Burrow said.
Ty Johnson, is the closer for the baseball team.
“I knew Emery before his SFA days and he was the most mature ballplayer I knew,” Johnson said.
This mental capacity he had before he got to SFA really gave him the ability to take the little things from that atmosphere and bring them here in a way that can build us up to be a national contender.
“As a team, if we let him instill these characteristics in us then teams like Concordia won’t seem like David vs. Goliath. It would become Goliath vs. Goliath,” Johnson said.
Both on the field and in the weight room Atkisson leads by example by being a vocal leader. The mindset he brings to the team keeps others like myself focused and gives the team the ability to perform at a high level.
“He knows the game from all sides and before working with Emery on my approach to pitching, I did not record a single out in my first outing. After I sat down with and started working with Emery I pitched in 10 more games that season and brought my ERA down from ‘infinity’ to a 1.75, but I also only gave up just three hits in those 10 appearances,” says Johnson.
Atkisson received a phone call from his nana before a summer league games saying she wanted to see him play one more time before she passed.
“This game was single handedly the best game I have ever seen him play and Emery ended up going 5-5, while scoring several times. God was truly with him that day and he was the epitome of what a ballplayer should be like,” Johnson said.
Atkisson is about 5 feet 9 inches, but plays like a giant, while enthusiastically making diving plays.
“That day was a beautiful testimony for the type of ballplayer and man Emery is,” Johnson said.
With Atkisson having more playing time this season, this will help the team in many areas, but especially the aspect of hard work. He will ‘bust’ it on every play no matter what happened previously and will always bring a positive attitude.
He said, “Baseball for me is an escape from reality. Whatever problems I have off the field disappear. I feel both at peace and like a kid with no worries, but to have fun when I get to play baseball.”