Nate Karaffa winds up for a swing at home plate

Ohio State freshman infielder Nate Karaffa (14) bats during the game against Georgia Tech in a series that ran between Feb. 21-23. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State Athletics

The impact and influence an athlete has goes beyond being able to hit a baseball farther than 330 feet or dial up a fastball around 90 miles per hour.

Sophomore outfielder Nate Karaffa was named one of 10 Student-Athletes of the Month, which is given to student-athletes that show excellent academic standing, by the Student-Athlete Support Services Office Sept. 1. 

“That was exciting,” Karaffa said. “I think there is a lot of guys on our team who just have great character and leadership.”

Karaffa is the first baseball player recognized by SASSO since Marcus Ernst in January. The leadership on the baseball team was further recognized as senior left-handed pitcher Griffin Smith was also named to the Student-Athlete Academic Advisory Committee Sept. 10.

“It speaks a lot. Something that’s really important to us is the brotherhood that we have in our program,” head coach Greg Beals said. “The family here in Ohio State baseball and their home away from home. We’ve got good guys, there’s no doubt about that.”

Karaffa entered Ohio State last fall as a shortstop but the presence of then-returning upperclassmen such as Colton Bauer, Matt Carpenter, Zach Dezenzo and Nick Erwin challenged him to learn a new position in order to earn his way into the starting lineup.

“Nate is a shortstop, has always been a shortstop and I foresee him being an infielder in the future of our program,” Beals said. “But this past year, it was what the ballclub needed and provided him an opportunity to get in the lineup.”

The way Karaffa carried himself and his team-first mentality garnered respect from his coaches and teammates, Beals said. 

“Nate was a highly-touted recruit, state champion his senior year at Toronto High School,” Beals said. “His playing time as a freshman was earned by what he did in the fall and us knowing the type of player he is and what his future is going to hold.”

Karaffa has already tapped into some of his potential. 

More trips to the plate likely factored into that team-first mindset as Karaffa’s 51 at-bats were second-most on the team, just two behind Dezenzo. His 11 runs scored and nine runs batted in were also second-most on the Buckeyes behind catcher Dillon Dingler, who was selected in the second round of this summer’s MLB draft by the Detroit Tigers. 

“I was really getting used to the pace of play,” Karaffa said. “Getting a lot more comfortable up there at the plate.”

Beals said Karaffa spent the summer working hard and putting on strength and weight, which could lead to an advantageous result.

“I’m really looking forward to him kind of exploding now,” Beals said. “That first year sometimes is a learning curve. I feel like Nate has got that under his belt, and now it’s time for that elite athlete he is to really blossom and grow as a baseball player here.”

The Toronto, Ohio, native started all but one of Ohio State’s 14 games and had collected seven hits in his last four games before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced spring athletics to cancel their seasons entirely. 

As autumn drew near, Ohio State had to determine how offseason practices would work amidst the Big Ten Conference’s decision to postpone fall athletics.

“The Ohio State University is confident that we have the safety protocols and rigorous safeguards in place for our student-athletes to practice and return to competition,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in a statement Aug. 20. “All services will continue to be available, including academic support, strength and conditioning training, sports psychology assistance and skill instruction.”

Until full practices and workouts get underway, players on the roster are rekindling their bonds and boosting team morale through competition after Karaffa said players were at home for the most part over the summer.

Some of the players compete in fantasy football leagues, but Karaffa said he isn’t managing a team. He enjoys displaying his competitiveness through cornhole, euchre, Madden and NBA2K tournaments.

“We hang out and watch a lot of sports together, a lot of sports are starting to turn on,” Karaffa said. “It’s a little bit of everything, a lot of MLB but everybody is really excited for football to start so that’ll be crazy.”

Despite the uncertainty that disrupted the offseason, Beals believes the quality of leadership on the team, in addition to commencing practices, will propel the Buckeyes into a promising season.

“We’re really looking forward here hopefully in October to get that quality time together,” Beals said. “Start putting together what we foresee to be a very exciting 2021 season and the capability of certainly playing for a championship.”