Streaming from the dugout, teammates raced towards Jordan Etier and moments later a massive pile of humanity engulfed him at first base, celebrating Etier’s game winning at bat against Texas A&M last Sunday.
It wasn’t the at bat itself that was so special — just a simple ground ball at the first baseman, and barely far enough up the line to score the runner from third.
But for Etier, it meant so much more. It represented the fulfillment of a second chance, because only a few months ago, he thought he might never get to play baseball again.
On October 15, Etier was arrested on charges of evading arrest and possession of marijuana.
Two days later Etier was dismissed from the team, and in many ways, the dismissal cost him his identity as a person.
“Every day waking up after that happened I thought, ‘God what am I supposed to do today? I only got classes and I have no baseball with my boys’,” he said. “I think that was the biggest thing, just waking up and thinking, ‘God I can’t do this anymore. It was there and now it’s just all gone.’”
However, the time away from the game proved to be a blessing, because it allowed him time to reflect on life and transform as a person. Before the suspension, it was all about baseball and having a little too much fun off of the field, but after his arrest life became more balanced.
“It gave me the opportunity to understand that baseball isn’t everything in life, because it’s not,” Etier said. “I was able to enjoy time fishing with my cousin and doing other little things, like helping my dad in the yard and finding time to spend with my grandparents and my half-sister, who I really go to know. I just really found happiness.”
But the change would have never happened if it wasn’t for one bad decision on a mid-October afternoon.
What happened that afternoon
Like some college students who find trouble on a Saturday, Etier’s issues stemmed from a night of heavy drinking and the bad decisions that come with that. In his case, he made the decision to wake up and attend a tailgate the next morning despite still being intoxicated from the night before.
At the tailgate Etier continued to drink until he and his friend, a baseball player from Oklahoma State, went down to a ravine area near the tailgate, which many students use as a place to drink or smoke, and even as a crude location for a bathroom break.
The latter was the reason that Etier and his friend took a trip down to the spot. A few minutes after they arrived a police officer called out to them to come up to the top of the ditch to talk. At that moment Etier had a choice, approach the officer and risk arrest, as he had two-thirds an ounce of weed on him at the time, or run.
Maybe it was because of the drinking or maybe it was because he thought it was the easiest option at the time, but he knows one thing was true. He was with his friend and he didn’t want him to get in trouble, so he ran.
“Once I saw him, I mean, there were 50,000 people there and he was on a bike, and I just thought it’d be a lot easier to get away real quick,” Etier said. Etier claims he did get away from the first officer, but as he recalls with a slight grin because of his oversight, “I couldn’t get away from their walkie-talkies.”
He eventually ran into Trinity Garage right off of campus and disposed of the marijuana he was carrying along with the receipt it was wrapped in. Both were later found by police and used in the charges against him.
To make matters worse, the arrest took place a night before the team’s first fall game, which he says was the toughest part of the ordeal.
“Sitting in jail while my teammates were out there playing was the worst part,” Etier said. “I wanted to be out there so bad that I was doing pushups, crunches, whatever in the cell to keep my mind off of it.”
However, Etier admits that he wouldn’t change much of what happened over those couple of days, because of the improvements he’s made as a person in the months following.
“I don’t regret it because it’s put me in a good place as far as seeing what I really want in life,” he said. “It’s also helped me see that life is not just all baseball. But I do regret the fact that I ran. I mean, it was a pretty bad deal sitting in a jail cell while all my other friends were out there playing.”
How he turned his life around
That terrible feeling he had about letting his teammates down was the first step in his recovery as a person and in getting back to UFCU Disch-Falk Field as a player.
But it wasn’t an easy road.
At first Etier was upset with the situation and angry with himself about his choices. But his teammates never quit on him, and it was their support during the ordeal that kept him upbeat and attending classes regularly.
His roommate and teammate Jonathan Walsh says that the team just tried to “show him love” throughout the process. Etier was thankful for it, because there were a lot of people around campus and the community who weren’t nearly as kind.
“There were a lot of other people going ‘hey look at that guy, he fucked up his career,’” Etier said. “But it really meant a lot to have that support from my teammates.”
His teammates weren’t the only source of love that Etier received. His family was key in helping him make the necessary changes, and the whole ordeal also brought them much closer together.
For the rest of the fall semester after his arrest, Etier went to live with his grandparents in West Lake Hills. The time he spent there allowed him to reflect and come to terms with his actions on his own.
“When I was able to go out and live with my grandparents I was not only able to make my own decisions, but was also able to have their support,” he said. “That was key because I had to come to terms with it myself, otherwise I don’t think it would have really sunk in the way it has.”
Though, Etier was in no way done with the game. He missed playing with his teammates out on the field and every day after class. In an attempt to fill that void, he would go hit with his dad, his friends or even just the little leaguers who would be outdoors practicing. He missed the game, badly.
Only problem was, despite finding a new perspective on life and making a change for the better, he still didn’t have a place to play his senior season.
The reinstatement process
When he was originally suspended, Texas head coach Augie Garrido told Etier that he would find him a place to play for his senior year, because he had always respected the tenacity and appreciation for the game that Etier displayed on the field.
Plus, Garrido is a real believer in people receiving a second chance, something he has experienced firsthand after his drunken driving incident in 2009. That event made Garrido a better person in the end, and he attempted to pass on that message to Etier.
“He told me it was just like when he endangered people through his incident and that he learned a lot from it,” Etier said. “That gave me the inspiration that I knew I could do the same and learn from the situation.”
Etier was originally scheduled to play at St. Edward’s University for his senior season — something that he didn’t want to do one bit. But St. Edward’s refused to admit Etier for the spring semester to play baseball, so he turned to his legendary coach for help at a second chance.
“I called coach Garrido, and he was like, ‘That’s not what we talked about, I have your back, and we’ll find you a place to play’,” Etier said.
Garrido set up one last meeting with athletic director DeLoss Dodds attempting to persuade Dodds to put Etier back on the team. In the meeting, Dodds sat right across for Jordan and looked at him squarely in the eyes to determine if he really had changed as a person. The charges had been dropped, but Etier wouldn’t be reinstated if Dodds didn’t firmly believe that Etier had not only learned from the incident but had also transformed as a person.
In the end, Dodds determined that he had earned a second chance, and Garrido had this to say about his shortstop’s reinstatement:
“It was decided by the administration to bring the punishment more in line with Jordan’s wrongdoing. After he was dismissed from the team in the fall, Jordan continued to attend class, which was looked on in a positive light by the administration ... which demonstrated his effort to learn and grow from the incident,” he said.
Fittingly, it was Garrido and not the administration who got to break the news to his shortstop.
“Coach Garrido just called me into his office and was like, ‘This is your second chance, this is your second life. You learned from your first one and now it’s time to make the most from what you learned from it,’” Etier said.
Etier gets his second chance
Etier was reinstated by the administration on January 18 and would have to sit out the first four games of the season due to suspension, but he was just thrilled to be back out on the field with his teammates.
“For so long, I couldn’t even wipe the smile from my face from just being able to be out there with the guys and having fun,” Etier said.
He wasn’t the only one; his teammates were ecstatic to have him back out on the practice field with them. It was not just for what he brings with the glove and with the bat, but because he is an amazing teammate who brings an irresistible level of positive energy to the clubhouse.
“Jordan’s always been a great person and a caring person,” Walsh said. “He’s one of the most loyal friends I know. If I’m lost somewhere at three in the morning, he’ll come pick me up, just like that. He just shows love to everyone. He really is a kind person.”
It’s that ability to care that makes Etier an incredible leader for Texas. He knows when to get on a player for having a bad at bat, but at the same time, he will always be the first player to come up to his teammates with words of encouragement after an error or a strikeout.
He’s also the Longhorns’ vocal leader. He’s the one that keeps spirits up on the field and communicates with the infielders to make sure everyone knows their assignments and are in the right spots.
“He’s always talking out there letting everyone know what to do, and you need somebody like that,” said second baseman and Etier’s double play partner Brooks Marlow. “That’s what Jordan is. He’s a leader and he’ll be a leader for the rest of his life.”
The leadership qualities he displays on the diamond translate directly into the career he wants to have after he’s done playing baseball: coaching. He’s in love with the game, and it’s on display every time he hits the field with a grin that seems to belong more on a hometown sandlot than it does at a big-time college baseball program, and that’s the kind of passion he wants to pass on to future generations.
Fortunately for him, during the past four years he’s had the opportunity to learn from Garrido, one of the best coaches in history and the NCAA’s all-time wins leader, and he’s soaked up all that he could learn from him in his time on the 40 Acres.
Garrido also believes that Etier has what it takes to be a great head coach because of his vast knowledge of the game and because his troublesome experiences make him a more relatable person and compassionate teacher.
“He’s had a lot of decisions to make in his own life and it hasn’t been necessarily a smooth road for him,” Garrido said. “I think what that gives him is an internal and subconscious compassion for people that need to make changes in their life, and that’s what teaching is about.”
Etier is attempting to take Garrido’s philosophical approach to heart this season, and outside of winning a conference championship and making it back to Ohama, his goal for his senior year is to pass on his experiences to his teammates to ensure that they don’t make the same mistakes he’s committed.
“That’s what I want to do more than anything,” Etier said. “You can’t control other people, but you can help them with different situations and you can mentor them, you can tell them what you’ve been through.”
Back on the field
After sitting out the first four games of 2012 because of his suspension, Etier returned with full intentions on making the most of the second chance he was given. This year he’s played with a solid glove at shortstop, and his hitting average is up over .25 points from the previous season to .256.
It might not be the best season by a shortstop in Longhorn history, but the intangibles Etier displays on the field — things like hustling down the line, a positive attitude and working his tail off every day — have earned back any respect he may have lost from his teammates after his arrest.
This is his second life out there on the diamond. He made mistakes in his first one, but he firmly believes that he’s taken the lessons learned from those struggles and transformed himself into a new ballplayer and more importantly, a reformed person. The new Etier was on display on Sunday afternoon in the Longhorns’ final game against Texas A&M, in which he knocked in the game-winning RBI.
After contact, he bounded down the first base line with a look on his face of pure joy, something he knows would have never been possible without the lessons learned from an arrest that now seems to be a lifetime ago.
“That was awesome,” he said. “The fact that I was never going to get to be able to play again was heartbreaking, but to come out here and finish strong on my home diamond and at the dish to put the Aggies away, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”