Sports

He won two Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots. Now he is playing for the Bradenton Marauders.

Former Stanford two-sport star Tyler Gaffney finished his NFL career in 2017 and resumed his professional baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He's starting the 2018 season with the Bradenton Marauders.
Former Stanford two-sport star Tyler Gaffney finished his NFL career in 2017 and resumed his professional baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He's starting the 2018 season with the Bradenton Marauders. Stanford University athletics

Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson.

They're the two most-recognizable names when discussing professional athletes playing baseball and football.

Jackson, being a running back, was a big influence on Tyler Gaffney, a former NFL running back returning to pro baseball this season as an outfielder in the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization.

"He's just a freak athlete and he just kind of paved the way that you can do it just by being an athlete," said Gaffney, who is starting the 2018 season with the Florida State League's Bradenton Marauders.

Tyler Gaffney mug.jpg
Tyler Gaffney

Going from one sport to the next isn't anything new for Gaffney.

In 2012, the Pirates drafted Gaffney. He played in short-season Single-A ball with State College. In 38 games, Gaffney hit .297 and had an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .925.

But after that season, he put his pro baseball career on hold to return to college at Stanford for his senior year in 2013.

"As soon as I left, I didn't know if I made the right decision," the 26-year-old Gaffney said. "But if I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it all out and be all in."

The Carolina Panthers drafted Gaffney in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft following his senior season at Stanford — a program that had Michigan's Jim Harbaugh as head coach and Florida State's Willie Taggart as running backs coach during Gaffney's freshman season.

The New England Patriots picked him up after the Panthers placed him on waivers in 2014. Gaffney's NFL career, though, began offering good and bad news.

The good: He won two Super Bowl rings with the Patriots.

The bad: He had bad knees, undergoing three surgeries for his lateral meniscus.

A knee injury during training camp robbed Gaffney of the 2014 season and he spent the 2015 campaign on New England's injured list.

Eventually, he got healthy and made New England's practice squad before receiving a promotion for a 2016 Week 8 game against the Buffalo Bills.

However, the Pats waived Gaffney after that season and he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars last August before another knee injury ended his NFL career.

Tyler Gaffney.JPG
Tyler Gaffney hits on the back fields in Port St. Lucie prior to the Bradenton Marauders’ game on Friday night against the St. Lucie Mets. Matt Neverett Bradenton Marauders

"If that's not writing on the wall, I got hurt playing the Patriots, the team that I was with, then I don't know what is," Gaffney said.

The knee injuries weren't a concern for Gaffney or the Pirates when he decided to return to professional baseball for the 2018 season.

But a roster spot wasn't guaranteed.

"It's very hard hitting a 95 mile an hour fastball," Marauders manager Gera Alvarez said. "He's making adjustments, you see him competing, but it just goes to show what kind of athlete he is. He finds ways. ... We're proud of him and excited to have him on the team."

Gaffney's arrival in Bradenton means he's bringing a winning culture.

A member of two championship teams — he has rings for Super Bowl 49 and 51 — in New England offered invaluable experiences that Gaffney could take into his baseball career such as how to bring a team together to win, be on the same page and strive for the same goals.

"I tried to steal many of the 'Patriots Way' and kind of balance it out with guys like Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and then the other successful people I've encountered in my life ... take the things they've done and their accolades and how they got there and mesh them into one place," Gaffney said.

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