Family connection bats in ballpark sluggers
Following in his footsteps, McNairy Central Bobcat graduate Austin Gafford has proudly worn the No. 27 in memory of his uncle Paul York.
York set several MCHS baseball records and graduated in 1987, which was one of the best years in Bobcat Baseball history. In October, shortly after his graduation, York died in a tragic car accident.
Even though York died six years before his birth, Gafford has still set out to accomplish a similar life, especially in the sport he loved so much: baseball.
For three years after his death, the team gave an MVP Award at the end of each season in York’s honor and retired his jersey. Gafford has been the only player to wear his No. 27 in over twenty years and now that he has finished his high school career, the jersey will retire once more.
This year, for the first time since York played, the Bobcats won the district championship and then moved on to win the region and sectional championship, setting the all-time MCHS record for wins in a season and becoming the first Bobcat team to reach the state tournament.
Gafford’s parents, Richard and Robin Gafford say that he has represented the number well. “One of Austin’s goals for the year was to tie one of his Uncle Paul’s baseball records.”
Until 1993, York held the RBI record for McNairy Central. He is currently tied for most extra base hits in a game, second in best batting average, third in most doubles in a season, career doubles, and RBIs, and he is fourth in best career batting average.
In this season alone, Gafford set the record for most triples in a season and led the team in hitting. He has also helped the team set new records this year for most at-bats, most wins, most wins in a season, most wins in a two-year period.
Many summers were spent playing on travel teams and York won three state championships, two in Tennessee and one in Mississippi. Gafford has won two state championships, one in Tennessee and one in Mississippi.
Both fell back on football in high school. While baseball was their love, football was a tempting sport to play as well. Gafford did not have much luck with the aggressive, rough-house sport though.
“He has overcome two major injuries in his high school career and has still been at the top of his game,” said his mother. “I am very proud of Austin’s determination and love of baseball.”
The damages of playing football left him with many months of surgery, recovery, and physical therapy.
“When I was a sophomore, I broke and dislocated my shoulder,” said Gafford, “but was able to bounce back in plenty of time for baseball season.”
In the 2011 Bobcat Baseball season, the senior stepped back out onto the gridiron to help MCHS through a losing season. In game four, Gafford caught a screen pass, found a lane, and rushed to the end zone. Before reaching the 25-yard line, he was hit by a defender and his legs were swept off the ground violently, which caused his ACL to tear and put an end to football.
After a speedy recovery, Gafford only sat out four of the 43 baseball games played this year. His injury became a positive for the team because his move to second base solidified the defense. The last injury infused him with even more determination to work hard and bounce back even stronger.
“He has been in and played through pain, but was determined to do the best he could for his senior year,” said Robin Gafford. “Kristi Davidson at Star Physical Therapy has been a gem with helping to get him healthy as quickly as possible. She always had his best interest at heart, and, as a parent, that is much appreciated.”
As the lead off hitter, center fielder, and second baseman, Gafford had a .355 batting average, .435 on base percentage, .496 slugging percentage, .910 fielding percentage, 34 runs, 22 stolen bases, and 14 runs batted in.
The Bobcats were one of the last six remaining teams in the 2012 BlueCross Spring Fling Class AA Baseball State Tournament when the season ended, which was McNairy’s best season yet.
Going into college, he wants to enter the field of trauma and E.R. and help others in emergency situations. Academically, he has held a 3.0 GPA and has a 22 ACT score.
While his Uncle Paul’s baseball career concluded after high school, Gafford would like to continue to set goals and work hard on baseball’s collegiate level. From the time he was four years old, he has played baseball. The game has become embedded in his blood and even though he has not formerly met the man who has inspired him so much, Gafford still honors his memory and lives to be a good example.