Brandon Van Horn was stretching between the dugout and home plate. He was at bat next for the 1,000th time in his career and the first in his senior year. There was a man on first. Swing. Hit. Foul. And a second strike for the batter before him. A drop of sweat edged from Van Horn’s hairline to his right temple and slid down his cheek. He looked over at the man on first then looked at the floor. As he lifted his chin to watch the next pitch he brought his arms in front of his chest and leaned his shoulders to opposite sides. Swing. Hit. Double. A man on second and third.
“Up next for the Mustangs is senior shortstop, #25 Brandon Van Horn,” revealed the young announcer as Van Horn power walked to the plate.
The pitcher threw a fastball and Van Horn hit a home run to give The Master’s College a lead against the University of California at San Diego. The Mustangs won.
Van Horn was ecstatic after the game but couldn’t celebrate until after his next which began just two hours later. He didn’t know, though, that the celebrations would never begin.
Van Horn started his college baseball career at Riverside City College. During his two-year career there he committed to Florida International but did not attend because his credits from Riverside didn’t transfer. He then committed to the University of Southern California but again his credits did not transfer. Just before Van Horn’s opportunity to play at a four year school was lost, Dallas Baptist University signed him.
There Van Horn was at a Division I Christian school—everything he had been praying for was finally coming together. He put all he had into his game. Midnight workouts and 2 a.m. batting practices became very common. Attending class and turning in assignments became less common. The love of the game, the determination to make it big, consumed his thoughts and time. Eventually his tenacious spirit on the baseball field lost him his battle in the classroom and his grades made him ineligible.
Van Horn was forced to transfer to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes. He disappointed himself, sure, but felt the most pain from the disappointment of his family and friends back home.
That summer he played in a Michigan summer league called Northwoods where he was acknowledged by many scouts and coaches suggesting he could easily be drafted.
But it turns out something else was in the cards for Van Horn. After a Saturday evening game, he and some of his teammates were off to visit a friend at a college nearby. After multiple stops and plan changes they confirmed their friend’s location and headed his way. But something—someone—stopped them along the way. As they approached a bridge a man jumped off and hit their car. They found out the next morning when the local police station called them in for questioning.
Following that night Van Horn’s battle became harder, he couldn’t focus on the game. He felt blessed to be alive, but his experience with the frailty of life got in his head.
Just before the summer’s end Van Horn transferred to The Master’s College in Santa Clarita thanks to his friendship with TMC baseball player Steven Karkenny. Though Van Horn was invited to play on the team he was ruled ineligible because of a rule infraction related to which classes he took that fall.
His junior season was gone and so were his chances of being drafted for that year.
Baseball wasn’t the only thing causing Van Horn trouble. Right after the NAIA took his junior season his dad had a stroke, his cousin killed himself, and his family lost their home. The Van Horns sold everything they owned and moved into the back of Brandon’s grandmother’s house. All he had left was in his dorm room. He spent the summer working at a local sporting goods store, Landry’s Sporting Goods, which he’s known well since childhood and became good friends with the owner, Paul Roberts. Roberts lost the store at the end of the summer and later died of a heart attack.
“A lot had happened in just a few years and I was getting worried about him,” Van Horn’s mother Lecia Van Horn said. “He just wasn’t the goofy, happy young man he usually was.”
When fall came back around Van Horn removed himself from his heartache and placed all his focus on baseball. He had to pass 24 units to be eligible to play his senior season the following spring. Thanks to academic mentorship from his professor and adviser, Bob Dickson, Van Horn was able to pass 24 to do so by spring.
“It was Dickson—all Dickson.” said Van Horn.
He spent the first 16 games of his senior season waiting for the NAIA to clear him. His coach notified him of his clearance in the middle of his Thursday morning sports journalism class. He went straight to the batting cages afterwards.
“Brandon and I were in Sports Journalism together when he got the text from coach,” said teammate Jonah Jarrad. “He was ready to practice that second.”
It was game two of the series at UC San Diego. Van Horn was up for the second time. He held the bat with confidence, his wrists floating over home plate. When the ball lost touch with the pitcher’s hand Van Horn’s eyes didn’t lose touch with the ball. When Van Horn’s bat came in contact with the ball Van Horn’s shoulder came out place. He dislocated his right shoulder and popped the bursa sac in between his clavicle and scapula.
Van Horn was off the field for another two weeks.
Now he’s back and has six games left to get drafted.
By Gaby Colón