COLUMBIA — C.J. Jarvis visited Tim Jamieson's office a few days before the Baylor series last week and asked his baseball coach what he needed to work on.
The freshman and the coach talked, and Jarvis got the impression that he'd continue sitting on the bench and occasionally pinch-hitting for the rest of the season.
"Honestly, I thought I was going to be in the same role all year after the conversation I had with Coach," Jarvis said. "He never hinted that I would be playing now."
Jamieson didn't say anything else to Jarvis before the team traveled to Waco, Texas. But when the lineup came out before the first game, Jarvis saw his name at the bottom.
Jamieson started Jarvis for his defense at third base, but the freshman proceeded to hit .500 with five hits at the bottom of the lineup. In the series finale, he went 4-for-4 with an RBI, helping Missouri (19-24, 6-10 Big 12 Conference) win its first conference series of the season.
On Saturday, the Tigers beat No. 6 Texas A&M 9-1, setting up a chance to sweep the best team in the conference if Missouri wins Sunday's game. Jarvis has continued to start, and Missouri has won five of its last seven games.
"We put him out there to see what would happen, and he's taken full advantage of it," Jamieson said. "I don't know whether it's directly related or not, but we've certainly been playing better since we put him in there."
"I have nothing to lose," Jarvis said. "I'm taking it for what it is and playing with a sort of reckless abandon. The worst thing that can happen is ending up back on the bench."
And that's a much better place than he was in this fall, when he ended up at Missouri unexpectedly. He struggled with the University of Oklahoma's rejection of him and moving farther away from his family.
Jarvis had committed early to play for the Sooners, who gave their only infield scholarship to him. But last August, a week before class started, Jarvis got a call from assistant coach Tim Tadlock, who asked Jarvis to go to junior college for a year.
Jarvis balked and didn't understand why Tadlock was asking. Tadlock didn't say but called back later that day and said Jarvis' scholarship was no longer available. Infielder Garrett Buechele, drafted in the 18th round of the MLB draft, had decided to return to school.
Jamieson called Jarvis and worked fast to make sure he could still come to Missouri. It worked out, but Columbia was far from where Jarvis wanted to be. Jarvis was not only away from his "very close" family in Houston but also separated from his girlfriend, Merrill Bohmbach, who was enrolled at Tulsa, relatively close to Norman, Okla.
"I had a pretty bad fall semester," Jarvis said. "Having to shift gears like that did a toll on me mentally. It was tough trying to fit in here because I'm not the going-out type. Being that far away from home was hard."
He found some solace in watching the Missouri football team upset the top-ranked Sooners, after which he rushed the field and was one of the students to carry the field goal post to Harpo's. He claims he was one of the loudest ones.
But finding some justice against Oklahoma was only a temporary fix for the loneliness Jarvis felt. He missed his family, and he missed his girlfriend.
Bohmbach and Jarvis had been dating since they met at the beginning of their senior year of high school at Houston Christian. They lived 40 minutes apart and made it work. But last fall, it wasn't working going to different schools more than six hours away from each other.
So Bohmbach decided to transfer to MU. Jarvis said it made a huge difference for him.
"It gave me somebody to talk to when things were going wrong for me," he said. "It really was what got mentally prepared for the season."
Jamieson started finding Jarvis hitting in the team's practice center until 10 p.m. He found that the freshman was one of the hardest working players on the team. Jarvis explained that as a switch hitter (one of three on the team), he had to work twice as hard to maintain both swings.
Jamieson found ways to get Jarvis a little playing time earlier in the season. Last week after seeing the team struggle defensively at third and first base, he found a way to get Jarvis into the lineup.
Jarvis' extended family made the three-hour drive to Waco for the Baylor series. They were as surprised as he was when he ran out to third base in the first inning.
Given the opportunity, Jarvis has played with an intensity that his teammates admire.
"He's been a good little spark plug for us," right fielder Blake Brown said. "He's a spitfire, too. He got in the umpire's face against Eastern Illinois. It's good to see that emotion in guys."
This isn't where Jarvis expected to be. For a while, it's not even where he wanted to be. But with the support of Bohmbach and his gradual coming to terms with what happened at Oklahoma, Jarvis has found his place at Missouri.
"I’m happy where I’m at, and I’m glad things worked out like they did," he said. "It worked out for the best, and I couldn’t ask for better place to play ball."