Growing Up the Winding Road

by Micah McDaniel

Middle reliever. Accomplished starter. Repeat starter. Collegiate baseball has taken Michael Fairchild ’17 down a challenging road. From coast to coast, with Hawaii and Alaska added in, he has developed as a player, met people from all walks of life, and along the way, grew up.

“One of the great perks of baseball at this level is that I have been able to build so many relationships, make connections, and grow as a man,” said Fairchild. “Azusa Pacific Head Baseball Coach Paul Svagdis always talks about the process, and because of it, I feel more confident today as a Christian man.”

That process began at age 6, long before he ever heard about APU—the day he learned he had type 1 diabetes. He faced that monumental challenge with the support of his parents, who helped him put his diagnosis and his life into perspective. “I realized this wasn’t going to slow me down, and now I don’t even think about it that much; it’s just a part of who I am.”

Years later, that can-do attitude caught the attention of two-time MLB All-Star Stephen Vogt ’07, who was working out and giving lessons in Fairchild’s hometown when the two met. They instantly hit it off, and Vogt helped start the recruiting process. “The man that Stephen is, that’s what turned me on to APU. He was a confident Christian man and treated me with respect. I wanted to be like him. I knew that APU could encourage me and build me up in my faith. Baseball was important but so was becoming a godly man.”

But it wasn’t always easy. “He was a little naïve when he got here,” said Svagdis. “Actually he possessed a refreshing innocence to being in college and being out on his own, he was excited to learn. As a freshman, after team meetings, he would come into my office and ask questions on what things he needed to do and say to be a leader, because that’s who he wanted to be. Now, three years later, he’s so much more comfortable with who he is becoming as a man and a person of faith, and it has translated into Mike being a great Christian leader in the clubhouse.”

It’s that maturity and confidence that have also helped him deal with adversity on the baseball diamond. Fairchild has made more starts on the bump than any other Cougar the past three seasons, and that number would be higher, but Svagdis temporarily moved Fairchild to the closer role for the first month of his junior campaign in 2016. When a starter went down, he returned to that rotation.

“At the time, I felt like it was the right call,” said Svagdis. “I never questioned his attitude, though. Mentally, he is much like Vogt was when he was here. He was willing to be sacrificial, put the team first, and buy into the coach’s vision, even if it meant a position change or something that may not have been best for him individually.”

Humility and a servant’s heart characterize him off the field as well. In addition to his athletic responsibilities, he serves as president of APU’s Student Athlete Advisory Board, and vice president of the Pacific West Conference’s Student Athlete Advisory Council. Understandably, his team named him captain as he heads into his final season and toward graduating with a degree in applied exercise science. If that were not enough to keep him busy, Fairchild also constantly monitors his health and pitches with his insulin pump. “My experience is that APU cares for its students and our holistic well-being. I have received so much support from my coaches, athletic trainers, and professors. That’s a big reason I came here—for the people.”

Fairchild aspires to pitch professionally for as long as the game will have him, but he also has a backup plan of becoming a nurse practitioner back home at Seattle Children’s Hospital, the same place where he was diagnosed with diabetes. But before all that, he has one final collegiate season and is back in his zone—the starting rotation. “This could potentially be my last season of baseball ever, so there are a lot of emotions that surface. I have a deep love for this game and the experiences it has given me, and I also have a deep love for Azusa Pacific and the opportunities it has given me to become the man I want to become. I feel as prepared as I can be for the real world because of how APU has created different challenges for me athletically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I feel ready.”