Maybe it was karma finally awakening and realizing it owed senior catcher Kevin Abraham a solid.
Saturdays’ cancellation rendered FAU’s 6-5, 11-inning victory over Western Kentucky on Friday – a game that ended on Abraham’s walk-off sacrifice fly – the Owls’ final game of the regular season.
“It was the last vision I have of me playing in FAU stadium, because we’re not going to play here again,” Abraham said. “That’s the last thing I will ever remember of me playing here at FAU, so it is a great memory I will have stuck in my head the rest of my life.”
Abraham’s career provided other great memories, like the Owls reaching the Gainesville regional final as a sophomore, but he’s also experienced some all-time lows.
Slated to be the Owls starting catcher in 2016, Abraham missed the entire season while battling Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. His return to the diamond last year drew a standing ovation. Minutes later, in the sixth inning of the 2017 opener, a pitch drilled Abraham in the face.
“It’s been a ride,” Abraham said. “Talk about a roller coaster, huh?”
Entering his redshirt-senior season Abraham didn’t figure to be much more than a role player. The emergence of Pedro Pages, the Owls’ everyday catcher and clean-up hitter, rendered Abraham a spectator in most games.
If that disappointed Abraham, he never showed it.
“He’s the heart and soul,” FAU coach John McCormack said. “He’s the captain. He has a way different perspective on baseball, life, everything, than every one of these guys, and I think he uses it to explain to them how lucky they are. He doesn’t push it down their throat. He’s an amazing guy. His energy. Even when things aren’t going well he’s the guy [who says], Don’t worry about it, we’re going to be fine. He’s really good.”
Abraham’s role changed once again in late April when Pages suffered what is likely a season-ending hand injury that required surgery to remove the hammate bone.
Suddenly Abraham garnered a more prominent role behind the plate.
“He’s got a feel for the game,” pitcher Blake Sanderson said. “He knows the guys better than anybody. He knows how to call the games. He knows what he’s doing back there. I know everyone on the pitching staff trusts him.”
To be certain, Abraham is a better player behind the plate than he is standing next to it with a bat in his hand. When McCormack is looking for offense from the catcher’s spot he’ll turn to first baseman Gunnar Lambert, who was thrust behind the plate in 2016 as one of Abraham’s replacements but didn’t catch a game this season until after Pages’ injury. Lambert’s bat has been hot of late and he’ll often draw the start before ceding the position to Abraham if the Owls are protecting a late-inning lead.
Abraham’s hitting only .120 – well off the .241 he hit last season – with two homers and 11 RBI.
“I think he means more than the game of baseball,” Sanderson said. “He just motivates us every day and makes us look at it, life, in a different perspective – how to enjoy life, enjoy every day and not take it for granted.”
Still there are times when Abraham prioritizes baseball over other major life events.
A few weeks ago he planned to skip his own graduation ceremony because it conflicted with baseball practice. McCormack ultimately talked him into attending the ceremony, a decision Abraham appreciates more than he expected.
“When I walked it was one of the most inspirational things I’ve done in my life because it was like, I made it,” Abraham said. “This is something that, a lot of people in the world don’t get this opportunity to graduate from college, university, and get a degree. It was a really emotional moment.”
Abraham isn’t in a hurry to put his degree in public administration to work. There’s more baseball business to complete.
His Owls face Florida International on Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Biloxi, Miss., in the first round of the Conference USA baseball tournament.
Even if the Owls don’t claim the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament that accompanies a C-USA tournament championship, FAU (36-15-1, 19-8-1) is positioned to earn an NCAA at-large bid with a couple victories over the next few days.
The No. 3 seed behind No. 1 Southern Miss and No. 2 Louisiana Tech, FAU is not the favorite to win the C-USA tournament, but the Owls have won six of their last eight and will have starting pitchers Jake Miednik and Mark Nowatnick back in the rotation for the tournament.
“I think the team right now has clicked in the last couple of games and coming into this stretch we all know that not the best team always wins in postseason baseball,” Abraham said. “Postseason baseball comes down to the hottest team and I think we’re going to be that team. We’re swinging the bat as good as any team in the nation and I think the past couple games we’ve been throwing the ball as good as any team in the nation.”