Before his first season with USC Aiken, Ashley Farr didn’t realize he had suffered an injury that would change his baseball career forever.
Looking back, he can now pinpoint the time that still leaves a sour taste in his mouth.
Farr was in the process of transferring from College of Charleston to USC Aiken for his sophomore year. He was playing in a summer league when he tweaked his right knee, and he rested for a week.
He returned to action a week later and entered his first season with the Pacers “stronger than ever.” He said he was squatting more than 600 pounds, and his 60-yard dash time was the fastest he’s had.
When he got called into a Cincinnati Reds doctor’s office for an examination two years later, he received the shock of his life.
“An MRI comes back and says I have a torn ACL, I have scar tissue around the MCL and ACL, I have a completely blown knee,” Farr said. “I really had no signs of it. The doctor said, ‘I’ve never seen anybody do the things you do while having a torn ACL.’”
With that diagnosis, Farr’s professional window almost shut completely in the blink of an eye.
“It was a very frustrating time,” he said. “But I keep going back to my time at Aiken, my time playing. I try not to let it affect me too much.”
Farr grew up in Columbia and played at Brookland-Cayce High School, where he was a USA Today Honorable Mention All-American and two-time All-State selection. He sought the appeal of a small school while pondering his college baseball options, eventually settling on College of Charleston, a Division I program.
After redshirting in 2001, Farr played 42 games as a freshman, including 26 starts. He hit .283 and led his class with 28 RBI.
He said he had nothing but praise for the coaching staff, but he never felt comfortable in Charleston. He again sought a comfort level that comes with what he describes as being relatively introverted.
Farr found that comfort at Division II USC Aiken.
“I still consider it home, honestly,” he said. “Everything just clicked.”
In his sophomore season with the Pacers, he led the team with a .427 average and 22 doubles, adding 13 home runs and 35 walks.
Despite such gaudy stats, Farr found a way to improve his junior year, putting together one of the best seasons in program history. He hit .483 with 19 doubles, 10 home runs, 64 RBI and 38 walks.
He traded some power for the ability to get on base more consistently, and the result was the Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year. He became the first Pacer to win the award since Adam Riggs in 1994.
“It’s hard for me to think there’s that many better outfielders and hitters in the country than Ashley Farr,” USC Aiken coach Kenny Thomas said at the time. “He’s proven he can swing the bat with anybody.”
DESPITE THE BREAKOUT season, Farr didn’t get a call in June during the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. His numbers shined, but his overall profile didn’t include the speed or light-tower power that draws scouts.
Farr let the draft snub affect his senior season. He struggled early in the year and finished at .352 with 13 doubles, 11 homers and 48 RBI.
“Coming into this year, I was disappointed I wasn’t picked up,” he said in 2004. “It just kind of took my passion away from the game a little bit.”
Farr again went undrafted after graduating from USC Aiken with a bachelor’s degree in communications.
The Reds gave him a chance as a free agent, and he took advantage by playing well at their camp that summer.
Farr was prepared for an assignment to Class-A Dayton when he had a normal physical. He was called back to a team doctor for a second examination, and the doctor focused on his knee. He ordered an MRI, which revealed the damage.
FARR LEFT USC AIKEN holding or sharing 15 program records, including two Peach Belt records, and was succeeding in limited action in the Reds system, all on a torn ACL. He never knew at the time, and it wasn’t until he remembered tweaking it in a summer league that he could recall injuring it.
“The head orthopedic said he hadn’t come across an injury like mine,” he said. “He likened it to someone born without an ACL. The muscle structure accommodates for the lack of stability. I injured the ligament and built muscle structure to accommodate for the injury.”
Farr had the surgery, and the Reds voided his contract. He never appeared in a Minor League Baseball game that counted.
“I was one of those who I thought I would be playing forever,” he said.
Farr rebounded to play in the independent Frontier League with the Mid-Missouri Mavericks in 2005. After 13 games, he was traded to the Rockford Riverhawks, where he hit .315 in 59 games.
After the season, the Reds called Farr back, but at 24 years old, he realized his window had likely closed.
“I told them I just realized I was at the end of my career,” he said. “I was about to get married, I would have been 25 years old; I saw the writing on the wall. They didn’t have any money invested in me. I talked to a crosschecker and he validated what I said.”
Farr met his wife, Angela, at USC Aiken. They had their first child, a boy named Jett, three months ago.
HE INITIALLY DIDN’T know what he wanted to do after baseball. After talking to a cousin who attended law school, he decided to try it. He now works as a title assistant at Costner Law Office in Charlotte, N.C., which he called a blessing. He will take the bar exam Monday.
Farr didn’t completely leave baseball. He has coached different schools and travel teams in South Carolina, and he currently coaches at South Pointe High School in Rock Hill, S.C.
The baseball dream ended abruptly for Farr, now 32. The experience remains tough to think about. When it crosses his mind, he likes to go back to what he considers a second home.
“I look back and come to the realization that I wouldn’t trade anything for those three years (at USC Aiken),” he said. “The accolades are great, but they come secondary to the experience of playing ball there, growing together as a team and family.
“It all works for good.”