Time has flown by for Riley Jepson.
Just a few years ago, he was a first-year player at the University of the Fraser Valley, destined to become arguably the top hitter in the program's short history. Now he's heading into his senior season with the University of Texas at Tyler Patriots, looking to enjoy every single moment of one last campaign.
“It literally feels like my freshman year was last year,” Jepson said. “You take it for granted until you're almost at the end of it.”
It's been quite the journey for the Salmon Arm secondary grad, who came to the Cascades in 2017. After wrecking Canadian Baseball Colleges Conference (CCBC) pitching for three seasons and helping UFV win the 2019 CCBC championship, Jepson took his bat south, joining the Div II Patriots. Through 23 games this spring before COVID-19 got in the way, Jepson was the stuff of nightmares for hurlers in the Lone Star Conference. He led the Patriots in batting average at .383, getting on base 52.8 per cent of the time.
That's just as impressive as it sounds.
“We're a pretty good conference and the pitchers are pretty good,” Jepson said. “A lot of them throw in the upper eights at least, and some guys will flash nines, so there's no slouches, for sure. We're always facing good competition.
"The first three weeks or a month of practices, I felt a little uneasy and struggled with the transition (from UFV and wood bats to the U of T and aluminum), but once we got into game play I felt fine."
The outfielder added four doubles and three home runs for a 1.071 OPS, and there was a chance he might have been a later-round draft pick by a Major League Baseball team if a global pandemic didn't get in the way. He hoped he'd get signed as a minor league free agent following the MLB draft, but nothing materialized.
“I performed very well in Texas and had a good feeling throughout the early season that something good was going to happen,” Jepson said. “We just got into the meat of the schedule, facing schools that are ranked nationally. But then, the pandemic caused the MLB draft to be cut short (five rounds instead of the usual 30-plus). Guys were getting cut in the minors and not as many free agents were being signed, so I kind of knew about a month ago that I might be going back to school.”
It's a small percentage of players who ever get drafted, and fewer still ever get to suit up for a minor league organization. The feedback Jepson got from scouts is that they liked what they saw, they just needed to see more.
“Because the season was cut short, before we faced those really good teams and had more scouts at the games, and because I this was my first year in Texas, they just didn't have the same background info on me that they have for other kids,” he said. “They (scouts) like my game and how I run and hit. They like my bat and my speed.”
Jepson hasn't given up on playing pro baseball by any stretch.But if the coming campaign is his swansong in high-level baseball, he's determined to enjoy it to the max.
“For three or four years now it's been the main goal to play pro, and it's come up short every year,” he said. “It is what it is and I'm not going to focus on that. I'm going to enjoy life and just appreciate the time I have. How many guys get to live in Texas, take in a different culture and meet the people I've met playing baseball?”
From eager freshman to seasoned senior, Jepson has matured and learned lessons he'll carry with him long after his playing days are done.The most important?
“You're never too good to not listen,” he said. “You can always listen and you can always grow. I've been around so many great baseball minds at UFV and in Texas, and I'd say soak it all in and really listen to what people have to say.”
And for the ballplayers who are just getting started at UFV, another piece of advice.
“UFV was awesome for me because it gave me the chance to play right out of high school,” he said. “The coaches – (Jordan) Lennerton and Wes (Darvill) – were huge for me because they've been around the world and done it all, and I could talk to them about all this stuff. So I'd say, talk to people. It's not all about baseball either. You need to be comfortable in your mind to be at your best, and there are so many good people at UFV who can help you adjust and feel comfortable with where you're at and what you're doing.”