Show up to any baseball field where there’s a game going on, regardless of the level, and chances are you’ll find one of the best athletes on the field playing shortstop. Some of the most famous baseball players of all time were shortstops— Derek Jeter, Ozzie Smith, Carlos Correa, Cal Ripken Jr.– every team has their guy.
For Mercer, that guy is 6’3” Sophomore RJ Yeager, the reigning Southern Conference Freshman of the Year and this season’s favorite to win conference player of the year.
As impressive as his freshman season was, Yeager looks poised to be even better this year. With six home runs so far on the year, he has already equaled his home run total from last year in just 12 games. His hot start has earned him recognition as SoCon Player of the Month for February.
Yeager attributes his success on the field to being “relaxed,” something that should come naturally given his laid-back personality.
“I’m just relaxed. When I’m on I’m super relaxed,” Yeager said. “When I get that feeling in the box, that looseness, I know good things happen for me.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been playing the game for almost his entire life.
“I was probably three when I started picking up a bat. Every time I went outside, I was swinging a bat,” Yeager said.
By the time he was a junior in high school, Mercer’s coaching staff began to take notice of his talent.
“I was at a tournament in Atlanta, and that’s how I (was) seen by the coaches. They liked me and offered me a scholarship that weekend, and I took it right off the bat,” said Yeager.
That impulsive decision has paid off for Yeager, who has plenty of good things to say about playing at Mercer.
“I love playing at this park, man, I love all the fans when they come out, the right field fans,” Yeager said. “And the brotherhood too, [my teammates and I] hang out 24/7. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them.”
Though he’s only just starting his sophomore season, the Florida native has plenty of career highlights. He said his top three are beating Florida last season, his three-homer game against Alabama A&M earlier this year and hitting a walk-off home run to beat Furman last season.
The most well-known aspect of Yeager’s game is of course his hitting, but he’s no slouch with the glove. If you show up to the park early enough on game days, you’ll likely catch him working on his defensive skills.
“Everybody sees home runs, doubles, hits, but they don’t see three hours before the game when me and my second baseman are out there taking ground ball after ground ball,” Yeager said. “It’s not as cool as hitting home runs, but it’s just something you gotta do.”
That kind of a work ethic has certainly paid off for him so far, and fans of Mercer baseball should expect to see more of the same in the future.
“Consistency, man, I just want to be known as the guy who’s consistent every single day… I want to be known for always producing some way, whether it’s a bunt, hit, being good in the field, whatever,” Yeager said.
Yeager compares himself to one of Major League Baseball’s brightest young stars, Carlos Correa. The two share the honor of being recognized as the best first-year players in their respective leagues, as Correa won American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2015.
“He’s a taller shortstop, he’s got some pop, he works hard. I’ve always compared myself to him, realistically. If I could end up like him, that’d be awesome,” Yeager said.
From swinging around a bat as a three-year-old to playing on college baseball’s biggest stage, baseball is clearly in Yeager’s blood. His love for the game developed at an early age, with his dad coaching his first travel ball teams, and he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
“It became such a big part of our lives, so I kinda didn’t know anything different,” he said. “I just wanted to stick with it for as long as I can, and I plan to play as long as I can.”