After two seasons of struggling to maintain a spot in the lineup for the Plattsburgh State baseball team, Jon Craft has played a starring role in the early part of his junior season. For Craft, the drive to improve has been motivated by witnessing an even greater struggle, as he has watched a loved one fight for her life.
In the classroom, Craft is a junior business administration and global supply chain management major. On the baseball field, he is a lot of things for the Cardinals.
Craft joined PSUC as a walk-on in the 2016 season and played at the shortstop position.
This season, the player from Smithtown, New York, has taken on a more flexible role for the team, primarily playing at third base.
“He can play anywhere in the infield,” said Noah Clark, a senior teammate. “In practice, he moves all around.”
Off the field, Craft is a model teammate. Whether he is offering to drive players who have no vehicle and need a ride or rallying team spirit, Craft is there for his fellow Cards.
“I’m a kind-hearted and laid-back person,” Craft said. “I definitely like to spend time with my teammates and my friends.”
Because he was not recruited to play at PSUC, Craft arrived on campus two years ago aware that no roster spot would be given to him for free.
“He was just going to give it his all, as he always does,” said Debbie Craft, Jon’s mother. “He works out hard, he tries hard, and he practices hard.”
Jon Craft’s career with the Cards did not start off spectacularly, posting batting averages of .191 and .185 in his first two seasons.
“Jon is one of those guys who suffered through a freshman year where we went 6-30,” said Kris Doorey, PSUC head coach. “We told him if he would hang in there with us, we would get better.”
While playing on a team that loses five games for every victory may not be ideal for any player, Jon Craft took that year as a learning experience.
“I use that as some of my biggest motivation,” Jon Craft said. “The freshman year is probably going to be the worst that I have.”
One of the biggest impediments in those early seasons was inconsistent playing time.
“Since I came in here, I haven’t really had a spot solidified on the team,” Jon Craft said. “Knowing that there are other people that are just as good as I am, I just have to work harder and prove myself on the field.”
This year has been different, as Jon Craft has been a more consistent feature in the lineup. After getting an opportunity to play when some teammates were disciplined for missing the team bus, he leads the Cards with a .355 batting average in 62 at bats in addition to playing well defensively.
“I always new he had a solid glove,” Clark said. “I think he’s one of our best defensive players. And I know this year he’s been putting in the work off the field, grinding every single day, and I think that’s really paying off for him.”
As Jon Craft has earned more playing time, Clarke believes this has allowed even more improvement.
“Now, he goes to the field knowing that he’s going to be in the lineup every single day,” Clark said. “I think that helps him mentally.
Jon Craft echoed that view that the consistency has helped the mindset with which he approaches the game.
“Honestly, just having confidence at the plate is such a difference,” Jon Craft said. “You’re going up there wanting the at bat, instead of going up there thinking that you’re going to get out.”
Away from baseball, Debbie Craft describes her son as a reliable and hard-working employee at a restaurant at home on Long Island, and a loving member of his family. The driving force behind his improved play this season stems from those family ties.
Major role models in Jon Craft’s life include his mother and youth coach Nick Grande. One of the biggest influences, however, is his aunt Renee.
Renee Craft was diagnosed with stomach cancer six years ago. After initially beating the disease, the cancer returned a few months ago. This time, doctors needed to remove her stomach to save her.
Renee Craft was recently released from the hospital after a three-month inpatient stay.
“Over winter break, I went to visit her in the hospital a lot,” Jon Craft said. “I spent a lot of my time working on my baseball stuff, working, or being in the city with her.”
Witnessing his aunt’s struggle in person, Jon Craft was able to learn some lessons about resilience in the face of adversity.
“It’s definitely on his mind,” Debbie Craft said. “He does see what she went through and how she’s fighting. If she can go through what she went through, he can fight to improve.”
While that improvement has primarily been in the work he puts in for baseball, Jon Craft sees those life lessons as something more generalized than that.
“I saw how she was struggling at some points but pushing through at some points,” Jon Craft said. “It’s shown me that I have to be strong and not let things that bring me down bring me down in other ways. You have to stay positive all the time.”
For Jon Craft, that positivity comes from remembering to focus on the bigger picture, both on the baseball diamond and beyond it.
“It’s always important to keep the right mindset, even off the field, and to know that you have responsibilities and you have other ties in your life that are important,” Jon Craft said.
Email Nathanael LePage at email@example.com