The only drama that Soren Graversen wants to hear about from here on out is baseball-related, like coming up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded in a tied game.
The 21-year-old junior at William Penn University in Iowa has put the experience of the last few years behind him and is enjoying a monster year with the Statesmen. He’s hitting .359 with nine home runs and 38 runs batted in over the first 30 games of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) season.
More importantly, he’s having fun on the field again.
“I’m having a blast,” the 6-foot-4, 195-pound slugger told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. “The thing I had to realize is that you’re kind of a piece of meat in an industry, you know what I mean? At the end of the day, we all started playing this game to have fun with it. So why not make it fun?”
He admits that having success has allowed for more joy, and the pleasure he has in playing has seemingly opened the door to more success.
SETTING THE STAGE
Graversen has endured quite the roller-coaster ride in his young baseball career, especially over the last few years.
The Calgary product came out of the Dawgs Academy program in Okotoks and was ready to take the college world by storm as he started at Indian Hills Community College. Looking back on it, he might have been too keen to show how good he was.
“The mistake I made in coming from a very good program like that is that I thought I was a big deal, right?” Graversen said. “Wrong. That was an immediate wakeup call. That got shoved right back down my throat.”
He acknowledges his attitude was all wrong, and ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) surgery limited him to playing in just two games in his freshman season in 2017-2018.
The first baseman/outfielder broke through the following year, hitting .292 with six home runs and 30 RBIs.
While things looked better on the field, it wasn’t the same off.
In October 2018, reports surfaced that two of his coaches were being accused of misconduct. Two players claimed head coach Cam Walker and assistant coach Steve Kletke provided false identities to foreign players so they could work to raise money for the team.
Those players weren’t allowed to work under the terms of their student visas. And if they broke the team rules, the players accused the coaches of using physical punishment at practice.
For Graversen, it became an overbearing distraction from what he had gone down to the United States to do.
“That program really wasn’t what I was expecting and wasn’t really what I was hoping for,” he said. “There was too much drama and it wasn’t about baseball. For a lot of people, it was about trying to get it over with.”
TAKE IT FROM THE TOP
With his junior college career in the rear-view mirror, Graversen was hoping a change of scenery at William Penn would provide another spark.
However, he stumbled out of the gate his first season, hitting .218 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 27 games before the COVID-19 pandemic drove things to a halt.
“I was just all in my head,” Graversen said. “I couldn’t make the adjustment and I was starting to struggle a lot.”
He remembers feeling a bit better just as the pandemic hit, so having to hit the reset button was discouraging.
“It sucked to have the whole year off but having that time let me focus on the mental game and not so much the physical part,” Graversen added. “That was actually good for me.”
It allowed him to head back home for an extended period of time and not focus on baseball, something he hadn’t done in a long time. He “didn’t really have a choice to keep digging my own grave,” which meant he could take a much-needed step back.
“I’d be lying if I said there weren’t multiple times over the last four years in college that I sat down and looked in the mirror to ask if this was even worth it,” he said. “There was definitely at least twice where I made the call to my parents and been like, ‘Can I get out of here?’”
With restrictions lifting and opportunities abound, Graversen made his way back to William Penn in the fall to get ready for the spring season.
Armed with a new outlook and attitude, he hit five home runs in the first six games and has continued to be a force for the Statesmen, who own an overall record of 23-8, while they are 12-4 within their conference.
“Right now, every time I step out on the field, I don’t care what team we play, I hate them,” Graversen said. “I hate the other guys in the dugout. I don’t even have to know them. I’m not going up there worried about what they might think of me or what other people think I’m going to do or how my performance is.”
He feels that freedom from the fear of judgment allows him to shake off an 0-for-3 day, as the next day is a new day and he will get them back.
Watching Graversen hit a massive home run during the opening week of the season, onlookers could tell there was a lot of emotion involved. It was personal for the Baseball Canada Cup alum.
“I try to play with a lot of respect, but at the same time, you gotta let them know,” he smiled. “You have to talk with your bat and let them know you’re here.”
Looking back on the trials and tribulations of the last few years, Graversen is proud to have landed back on his feet after some very challenging moments.
“Those are the best moments because then you have to bear down, look at yourself and ask if you want to be known as the guy who couldn’t do it or the be known as the guy who did it,” the 2020 Letter Winner and NAIA Scholar-Athlete said. “That’s how I got through it.”
He’s not ashamed of those moments of weakness and believes there is nothing wrong with “being human.” He hopes those lessons can be heard by younger athletes as well.
“My experience is that everyone’s experience is different,” he remarked. “Obviously, my experience and everyone who went with me to Indian Hills was a little more challenging than your typical experience.”
Graversen is also mindful that others might think they are the big man on campus after strong high school years, which made him learn that attitude is important.
“My best advice is to shut up and listen,” the Human Services major laughed. “Do what you’re told, but enjoy every step of the way.”
He’s grateful for the opportunites presented through Dawgs Academy, adding he’s “very fortunate to have them be a big part of my story” and the relationships he still has to this day.
“Soren is an outstanding person and well-engrained into the Dawgs family after playing here for five years,” Dawgs Academy general manager Tyler Hollick said. “College baseball on and off the field isn’t easy but Soren has risen to the challenge and really grown as a young man.”
Hollick adds the Dawgs have been following Graversen, like all alumni, and are proud of his success and growth over the years.
Graversen is also quick to single out Jordan Camp. The former Indian Hills assistant coach is now a head coach at Southwestern Community College.
“He is one of the most amazing coaches I’ve ever had or ever gotten the chance to meet in my life,” Graversen said. “He took me under his wing and did a lot for me.”
While the Baseball Canada Junior National Team alum might be proud of himself for how far he’s come, he also realizes it’s just the beginning – a new beginning of sorts.
“At the end of the day, I just want to be the guy who did it, not the guy who quit.”– Soren Graversen
That’s something baseball fans will happily give a standing ovation for.