Sacramento State second baseman Andrew Ayers' weekend of damage control included soothing the heated emotions of his frantic girlfriend. Laura Kramer was driving from Los Angeles on Friday to watch Ayers play when she found out about a brouhaha with visiting UC Riverside, an ugly skirmish that sullied an otherwise pristine afternoon, smeared Ayers' image and quickly spread on the Internet.
Kramer called Ayers out with some choice words.
"She was mad at me, thought I instigated it, and I had to tell her, 'No, no, look at the replays again. I reacted,' " Ayers said Sunday. "But I can see why people were confused. That whole thing happened so fast. It wasn't a good thing."
Ayers, a senior and the Hornets' fiery team leader, was involved in a rundown in the third inning. The Riverside runner, Eddie Young, grabbed Ayers' glove on the easy tag and tried to force the ball out, Ayers said, twisting his wrist to the point Ayers feared injury. Ayers then appeared to shove Young out of the way.
Young responded with a punch that landed squarely on Ayers' jaw, but Ayers barely flinched. Young threw a second punch that missed, and Hornets third baseball Will Soto tackled Young as players from both benches raced onto the field.
Young and Ayers were ejected. Per NCAA rules, ejected players must sit out four games.
Ayers stewed from afar through the first three of those games, disappointed he let his team down and remorseful to those closest to him, including his parents, Phil and Jani, who drive five hours from Eureka for home games.
"I expected (Young) to just get up in my face and then players would separate us, but he punched me, and I was stunned," Ayers said. "I play with a chip on my shoulder. I never leave anything on the field. I never want to play with regrets. Sometimes it gets tense, and I regret what happened."
Sac State made "SportsCenter" twice within a week. First was an over-the-railing catch by first baseman Rhys Hoskins on a play at Texas. The next was the brouhaha. That footage also made it to CNN, "Good Morning America" and other newscasts across the country.
Ayers was criticized as the instigator in comments to online stories and on social media. But his teammates and coaches disagree.
Hornets center fielder David Del Grande grew up with Ayers in Eureka. They played baseball and youth soccer together and attended the same schools.
"That's our leader, the one we look up to, and he's all that - a great player and guy," Del Grande said.
Ayers' parents watched in astonishment Friday, Phil ready to scale the fence to defend his son, according to witnesses.
Ayers is so close to his parents that last June he gave them his Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year Award.
"My parents mean everything to me, and they deserved that award more than me," Ayers said. "I'm proud of the award. But it's not me. It's a team award. I can't do this without these guys."
And the Hornets can't expect to compete for a WAC championship repeat without Ayers.
Ayers, a marketing major with a 3.5 GPA and a four-year starter, will sit out today's game against visiting Nevada. He'll be back on the field when Utah Valley visits for a three-game series starting Friday.
"We are trying to create an edge here," Sac State coach Reggie Christiansen said. "We have been a doormat for years. Our players want it to change. Andrew's play has helped change the mentality of our program. He plays like Pete Rose.
"He's my young son's favorite player. Andrew, as a leader, knows he shouldn't have followed the Riverside player (after the shove), but he didn't deserve the punch, either."
Later Friday evening, Ayers phoned Christiansen and asked if he still could help host an out-of-area recruit.
"He asked, 'Coach, you still want me there with you?' " Christiansen said. "Nothing changed with me. If we didn't have trust and love for Ayers, he doesn't go with us to host that recruit. He's that special and important to us."
And Sac State landed a verbal commitment from that recruit.