CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – John Bivens looks like he could knock a ballcarrier into the cheap seats at a college football game, quickly change uniforms and belt a home run over the 400-foot sign in center field. That’s because he can, or could.
Bivens, 22, played football and baseball for a while at the University of Virginia, but his once promising two-sport career did not blossom with the Cavaliers. He had knee surgery and then another operation to repair his shoulder, and all he had to show for 3 ½ years at UVA were a few tackles and about 20 at-bats.
“It was hard to compete at an elite level when I was battling injuries,” he said.
Bivens left the University of Virginia last fall and enrolled at Virginia State this winter, moving from an NCAA Division I school in the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference to an NCAA D-2 school in the Central Intercollegiate Athletics Association. And rather than splitting time between two sports at Virginia State, he’s strictly a baseball player now.
“It was a great decision that I made,” he said Monday after competing in the National Pre-Draft Showcase in Cedar Rapids. “I got the best of both worlds. I still get my degree from UVA (in sociology) and I was able to play baseball this spring. I had a great year, back healthy again. That was one of the most important things for me.”
Bivens hit a modest .293 at Virginia State this season with five homers, 33 RBIs and 16 stolen bases, playing regularly for the first time since he was a senior in high school in 2006. He got off to a slow start this season, then came on strong.
“I started the season pretty bad,” he said. “I couldn’t hit a changeup to save my life. I was hitting one-something. Once I got those at-bats, I got my timing down, and I started squaring a whole lot more balls and I had a whole lot more patience at the plate, because I was chasing a lot of pitches early on.”
Bivens said he attended his first Perfect Game showcase when he was 15 years old, when he was a promising young player from Disputanta, Va. He’s still a promising baseball player, which is why he traveled to Cedar Rapids with his father for the Perfect Game National Pre-Draft Showcase on Monday.
Bivens is eligible for the Major League draft this June and was hopeful of impressing the scouts who gathered at Perfect Game Field. “I couldn’t turn down the opportunity,” he said.
“It went well,” he said. “I felt like I ran good, my throws were pretty good, but I would like to get them down a little more. My round of BP, I was just trying to spray the ball around the field, trying to show that I can go the other way, and I turned on a couple of balls. So I felt pretty good about my BP round.”
Batting practice got Bivens ready for the game, where the fleet outfielder did well.
“This kid deserves the opportunity to play professional baseball,” said Perfect Game president Jerry Ford, who was very impressed with Bivens’ performance. “We were a bit skeptical of inviting him to the Pre-Draft because we hadn’t seen him play since high school.
“Of course, we knew he was an outstanding high school player and a great athlete with a big-league body, so we did invite him,” Ford said. “He put on a good show, displaying his speed and power ability. He hit the ball very hard every at-bat against some excellent pitching. The shot he hit off the wall was especially impressive. Most important, we have known for years that John scores very high in the ‘makeup’ department. He could be one of the big sleepers in this year’s draft.”
Bivens carried 235 pounds when he was a linebacker at Virginia, but he’s trimmed down to 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds now that he’s a full-time outfielder. He still looks like he could knock a tailback to kingdom come, but he’d rather knock a ball into the gap or over the fence.
“Baseball has always been my first love,” he said. “Right now, I’m strictly baseball. All my mindset is totally on baseball.”
Bivens was a fourth-year junior this season at Virginia State. He has another year of eligibility with the Trojans if he wants it, but he’ll pursue a pro baseball career this summer if given a chance. He’s healthy again – no problems with his knee or shoulder – and anxious to chase his dream.
“I took this year as kind of getting me back on my feet, as far as getting back in baseball shape,” he said. “I really needed those reps, really needed those at-bats.”
Bivens said there were scouts at some of his games this year at Virginia State, and he’s been in contact with some teams about individual workouts before the draft. He hopes his performance at the National Pre-Draft Showcase will help.
“I just really thank God for this opportunity to come up here and play,” he said.