COLUMBIA — As the Missouri baseball team gathers in front of its dugout before the national anthem of every home game, one player makes his way through the sea of black and gold jerseys, doing well-rehearsed handshakes with several of his teammates.
With his dark, shaggy hair sticking out from the back of his cap, his black socks pulled up to his knees, and his sunglasses resting on the brim of his hat, even on an overcast day, Mike McGraw is a noticeable character in the Missouri dugout.
Missouri (22-17, 6-9) will visit Texas Tech (29-12, 3-12) for a three-game set. The Tigers and Red Raiders are scheduled to play at 6:30 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday
Last weekend, McGraw added his most distinguishing feature yet — a black cast on his left forearm.
McGraw partially tore a ligament in his left thumb during practice April 19, one day before the Tigers opened a three-game series against Kansas State.
He had just locked up the first base starting job after coach Tim Jamieson's first three choices for the position failed to produce offensively.
The Newman, Ga., native grew into the role quickly. In his seven games at first base, McGraw hit .370 with six RBIs. Now, he will be in a cast for two weeks before moving forward with rehab.
"It is frustrating," he said. "You work every day to be in the lineup and be part of the team and help the team have success, and then when you actually get in, you kind of have a little bad luck come along."
McGraw, a natural shortstop, started the year on the bench after transferring from Bossier Parish Community College in Louisiana. And even after his injury, McGraw says he's been able to remain positive since finding out that there's still a chance he could return this season.
He also said he's hoping his hot streak left an impression with his coaches as he looks ahead to 2013.
"Hopefully it lingers in the coaches' heads and they have a sure spot for me somewhere in the infield next year, because they saw what I did this year," he said. "It helps a lot."
Although McGraw is unable to play, he can be seen standing on the team's bench throughout the game. With each Tiger hit, McGraw leads the chorus of cheers that can be heard from the dugout.
When McGraw's injury kept him in Columbia during the team's current road trip, he spent the night watching the team's game at Missouri State and sending encouraging twitter messages to his teammates. Before the game, he tweeted "First game not with @MUTigerBaseball tonight. Wishing my boys a win. @jemens20 (Jeff Emens) gonna throw a gem."
Next year, McGraw could potentially take over third base, a position currently handled by senior Conner Mach. In the meantime, he has worked with his teammates to adapt to the other side of the diamond.
"They kind of threw me over there and I had to learn," McGraw said. "I didn't really know much about it, and during practice and games, both Gavin (Stark) and (Andreas) Plackis would come up and give me tips."
For now, as Missouri looks to climb back from the basement of the Big 12 standings, Plackis has reclaimed his spot at first base. McGraw is left to live up to the statement in his Twitter biography, which reads, "Always dance as if you have ants in your pants."
"I mean, anyway you can lead in a positive way always helps the team," McGraw said. "If me acting a fool keeps our team up and happy in the game, I'll do it every day."
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.