Rick Heller very impressed with how Connor McCaffery handled this past season

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Connor McCaffery

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa – From a statistical standpoint, Connor McCaffery’s redshirt freshman season with the Iowa baseball team was nothing special.

He only hit .238 with one home run in 84 plate appearances and was used mostly as a backup in right field.

Statistics hardly tell the full story, though, as Iowa baseball coach Rick Heller explained on Wednesday.

“I told him, I thought you had a great year,” Heller said. “I thought he handled it about as well as anybody could. And in my opinion, he was way better than I thought it was going to be.

“Obviously, you’re talking about a result standpoint, he wanted better and we all would have liked to have seen him get more opportunities and get hot. But for the first time doing it, I was like, whoa, this went way better than what I thought it could have because I don’t think people realize how hard it is.”

Heller was referring to McCaffery’s demanding role of playing both baseball and basketball for the University of Iowa. The two sports overlap in February and March, so McCaffery had a lot of catching up to do when he shifted to baseball in late March after the Iowa basketball team had been eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s just real difficult when you’re not there the entire time to jump in as a position player and then you’re just boom,” Heller said. “You’ve got to really go, and that’s not a knock on Connor. That would be anybody.”

It was hard enough for the 6-foot-6, 205-pound McCaffery to play catch-up, but he also faced some stiff competition for playing time in the outfield this past season.

Junior college transfer Zeb Adreon earned most of the playing time in right field by hitting around .300 for the season, while senior Chris Whelan and junior Ben Norman started in left field and center field, respectively, for an Iowa team that finished 31-24 overall.

Heller also used Justin Jenkins in centerfield as part of a defensive lineup late in games. That would cause Norman to shift to right field and would keep McCaffery on the bench.

“It’s just such a hard thing to come in twenty games into the season,” Heller said. “It’s a very competitive situation and we have to try and win every single game.

“And in Connor’s situation, if he doesn’t come in and just get hot, it’s tough to get in the lineup when somebody else is hot, or if somebody else is swinging it really well at the time or you’re going to play a defensive lineup with Jenkins and Norman in the outfield, and you’ve got to have Whelan.”

McCaffery started 22 games this past season and scored five runs while also driving in five runs. He had a .312 on base-percentage and a .310 slugging percentage.  

McCaffery is now spending part of this summer playing for the Albany Dutchmen in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, and Heller thinks that could pay dividends.

“He just needs at bats,” Heller said. “He just needs to go play where he’s going to play every day and he knows he’s going to play, and he’s going to get his at bats against both left and right (handed pitchers) and just continue to improve and get some experience because that’s the only thing he’s really lacking, is just a lot of experience against high-level pitching.”

McCaffery has appeared in three games so far for Albany and has one hit in 10 plate appearances.

But at some point late in the fall, McCaffery’s focus will shift back to basketball where he plays for his father, Fran McCaffery, at Iowa.

There is a chance that Connor McCaffery could be Iowa’s starting point guard next season with Jordan Bohannon’s status for next season uncertain due to his recent hip surgery.

That by itself would be a massive responsibility, but Connor McCaffery is determined to play both sports at Iowa, and will do whatever it takes to succeed in both sports.