PORTSMOUTH — During a time when the sports landscape — as far as games are concerned — have been halted due to the coronavirus, there’s certainly been a level of hurt that has come with not playing, watching or covering the sports that we love.
However, imagine that love being taken away from you three times — due to the same injury — and working yourself back.
With the talent that George Duran has showcased throughout his Shawnee State baseball career, one would find it hard to believe that Duran has suffered through three ACL tears already in his short life.
“It’s been one heck of a roller coaster,” Duran said of his journey. “Still, I believe that this season held a lot of positives for us. With the highs and lows in this abbreviated season, I felt like each moment made us closer as a team and allowed us to take another step toward becoming a team and program that will soon be the top-tier team in conference play.”
From the outset of his baseball career, Duran’s journey has resembled everything outside of a normal ride.
A talented player who was beginning to see more time at Freedom High School in the southern portion of Orlando, Fla., Duran became the leadoff hitter for Premier Baseball Academy-Orlando’s 16-and-under squad.
In a three-game set at the 2015 World Wood Bat Association East Memorial Day Classic, Duran helped lead his 16-and-under travel team to a 2-1 record in tournament competition, while setting team-highs in .OPS, walks, runs scored and matching the team-high in extra base hits.
With two more years still to play, it looked as if Duran was well on his way to attracting college attention at various levels.
However, that was taken from Duran’s hands.
Over the next two seasons, Duran suffered multiple ACL tears that forced the promising utility talent to watch from the pine.
“It was a long and difficult process,” Duran said. “Every time that I came back to play, it wasn’t long until I would get hurt again, and have to sit out. It was so frustrating because it was so hard to come back, and then when I would get injured, it would feel like it was all for nothing.”
After tearing his ACL for a third time during his senior campaign, Duran thought about throwing in the towel.
Once on track to earn college interest from multiple programs, Duran — with little to no interest from colleges due to his lack of exposure from his injuries — saw his senior season come and go without an opportunity to play anywhere.
Additionally, he was only just one more ACL tear away from ending his career without even so much as a say in the matter.
“It wasn’t until the third ACL tear during my senior season where I really had to sit back and figure out what was going on,” Duran said. “I had just lost my last chance to even finish a high school season. My surgeon told me that if I were to tear my ACL again, that I couldn’t play baseball. I started noticing people giving up on me. I felt alone.”
However, Duran proved that he only needed to trust himself.
Still eager to pursue his dream of playing collegiate baseball, Duran settled for taking the year away from baseball and attended Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla. — while strengthening and rehabbing throughout the 2017-18 academic year.
This time, his work ethic did not go unnoticed.
Inspired by an opportunity with three of his former travel ball teammates at Shawnee State back in 2018, Duran reached out to Phil Butler, then an assistant for SSU’s baseball program, to see if he could join the Bears.
As the cliched saying goes, the rest is history.
“I had not talked to them as much during the recruiting process,” Duran said. “I had met (Phil) Butler through another Shawnee State recruit who I had played with in summer ball during high school. I’d only had phone conversations up with Phil up to that point until I sent him a few videos. During my first year of college, all I did was work and work and work on my knee. I went through vigorous training during the school year to find a school for the following year. When I felt that I was ready, I got in contact with (Phil) Butler.”
Rejuvenated with a chance to play the game that he loved, Duran didn’t waste the opportunity.
In his first season with Shawnee State, Duran was one of only three players to play in all 40 games, and posted 15 RBI while also placing fourth on the unit in doubles (eight) and second in stolen bases (10).
Defensively, Duran posted an outstanding .986 fielding percentage, committing only one defensive error in 73 chances.
In his second season with the Bears, Duran drastically improved.
After hitting .238 in his first year, Duran raised his batting average by a whopping 130 points to hit a team-high .368 among (SSU) everyday players, while also stealing a team-high four bases in six attempts during the season.
In addition to leading SSU in those categories, Duran also led Shawnee State in slugging percentage (.561), on-base percentage (.513), .OPS (1.074), walks (15) and runs scored (17), tied for the team lead in RBI (13), and finished second on the unit in hits (21).
He posted all of that production while serving as the team’s leadoff hitter for the entire season.
“On the field or in the box, I need to show that when playing Shawnee State, there is no easy win and you will be tested,” Duran said. “The same intensity has to be shown offensively, and more importantly, defensively. It is an honor to be a key part of the team’s success. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m down for it.”
Beyond just showing that Shawnee State will not be an easy out, Duran’s proven to those around him — and most of all, himself — that his mental strength is arguably his most powerful tool as a person.
“It feels great to be back out there doing what I do best, and that’s having fun and competing,” Duran said. “I still have a lot of work to do. I know that I’m going to get better as the years go by, so this is only the beginning for me. I learned that if you really love something, don’t let anything come in between that love. That goes for anything in life like sports, dream jobs and relationships. If you have a dream, keep that dream. Hard work does pay off.”
Hard work also proves to be beneficial in the classroom as well.
In that aspect, Duran has also shown strong promise as the sophomore currently holds a 3.35 GPA in the Sport Studies program while passing nearly 70 hours of credit.
Duran’s ability to overcome the type of adversity that he’s overcome in his life has the sophomore outfielder believing that he can do big things in the future.
“I hope to graduate from Shawnee State with a Sport Studies degree, complete the PTA program at Shawnee and be inducted into the Shawnee State Hall of Fame as one of the best to ever play baseball here.”
Honestly, who could blame Duran for setting high goals?
He already passed an immensely tough challenge in his life — one that has arguably made him stronger for the wear down the road.
“The knee injuries taught me to be patient and to never count yourself out,” Duran said. “It taught me to be humble, but also be confident in yourself. I almost lost baseball for the rest of my life. When you care about something or someone, you got to work to keep it, and even when things aren’t going good, that’s when you got to work the most. That’s how you got to live life. I don’t ever want to be in a position where I could lose something again.”
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