Last season the University of Utah baseball team clinched the Pac-12 title, giving the school its first Pac-12 Championship in a men’s sport since joining the conference in 2011. The Utes, who entered the season as underdogs, took down the Washington Huskies 21-7 to close out a three game series. The Utes advanced to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2009 where they eventually ended their season with a 26-29 overall record (19-11 Pac-12).
The All-Pac-12 selection, All-Defensive selection, Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American and Pac-12 player of the week, DaShawn Keirsey Jr. helped lead his team to that Pac-12 victory. But the outfielder from San Diego has been around baseball long enough to know that there’s more to the game than just winning. It’s not all about the hype you feel on game days, the glory you get from a hard-fought win or the rush you feel after getting a base hit with the winning run on third. Baseball is much more than that. The influence this game has had on Keirsey’s life and the lessons he has learned on the field have helped him off the field made the person he is today.
At age three, Keirsey picked up a baseball and a bat and immediately fell in love with the game. The competitiveness kept him wanting to play more. Though he grew up playing basketball, soccer and football, he knew he wanted to pursue the game that he had given so much to and, in return, it was giving it all back.
“The most important lesson I’ve learned is never giving up and always fighting,” Keirsey said. “I mean in baseball you fail seven times out of ten if you’re good.”
When life throws him a curveball, he knows how to handle it because he’s been in difficult games before where he knew quitting wasn’t an option.
“I got recruited by other Pac-12 schools, but I wasn’t a big, huge name out of high school,” Keirsey explained.
He knew what it would take to get his name out there, so last season he put in the work needed so he could have the successful rookie season that he did. Those results wouldn’t have been as outstanding if he had given up.
“He is going to be his biggest obstacle,” said Tami Keirsey, DaShawn’s mom. “The biggest thing in the world is a waste of talent — that’s what my husband and I always tell him.”
Although there are tough plays that have to be made on the dirt, there are also challenging obstacles that come away from the ballpark. But DaShawn holds onto the belief that fighting adversity and perseverance will not just get you through a game or season, but life as well.
The “family” aspect is the biggest lesson DaShawn has learned while at Utah. Learning how to work together and support each other despite differences is important with a team that adds new faces each season.
“It’s definitely taught me to get use to different personalities — we have 35 different guys, 35 different personalities. It’s taught me how to adjust to different people,” DaShawn said.
Away from the bright lights, he keeps that family feeling with him. The oldest of five kids, DaShawn is a family-oriented big brother.
“He told me when he was just [in San Diego] that his biggest motivation is his baby sister — she’s four,” Tami said. “She’s like his best friend, and he just keeps wanting to make her proud.”
In the park or at home, DaShawn has learned the importance of becoming a family and getting along with others because those closer to him are usually the ones who will push him to be his absolute best.
The ability to hit, catch and throw are the obvious key components that define baseball. The fans get to see that action and witness breathe-taking flips and risky dives, but what they don’t get to see is the mental part of the game. Such a big part of baseball is simply being able to focus. This is a lesson DaShawn has done a lot of research on so that when he’s at the plate he knows how to control his thoughts.
“I try not to think about the outcome — I just try to think more the process,” DaShawn said. “I’ve read a lot of books about hitting, and one thing I took away is you have to be focused and present on the one pitch. You can’t dwell on a pitch before or think about the pitch ahead. You just have to be in the moment.”
The left-handed batter hit .293 last season, and he finished with 63 hits and 30 RBIs. The concentration he has brought forth has bled into other aspects of his life. As a student-athlete, DaShawn has recognized how important it is to stay focused and committed in a ballgame and in the classroom.
“He’s always been very focused on his goals with baseball and school,” Tami explained. “He’s always known he wanted to play at a high level of baseball and he’s always worked very hard in school to get the support he needed to get there.”
The game that DaShawn grew up with has taught him more about life than some people will ever learn in a lifetime. From a little boy with big dreams to a college star on the rise you can never underestimate the power of a game like this. The impact it has on building, shaping and strengthening character goes far beyond outfield. Whether behind closed doors at practice or in front of a crowd on a warm spring night, some life lessons are just better learned in a dirt-stained uniform with a baseball, bat and glove.