OMAHA, Neb. -- Brandon McArthur might be enjoying the College World Series a little more than any of his Florida teammates. Maybe as much as any player who's ever been here.
That's because his journey to picturesque Rosenblatt Stadium has been a lot longer and much more demanding than most.
"I never thought I would have a chance to come here," McArthur says. "Being able to play the game after what I've been though, it's unbelievable."
Nearly 20 months ago McArthur lay bleeding in Gainesville, Fla., after a man sucker-punched him outside of a bar and he slammed his head on the sidewalk.
Doctors worked to save McArthur's life, but two surgeries were needed and he lost 5 percent of his brain. What followed were long hours of rehab to re-learn motor skills and build his body back.
Now he's in college baseball's ultimate showcase, striving for a national championship just a year after his primary pursuit was a normal life.
Baseball, though, was always a driving force.
"It's remarkable. He almost had his life taken from him and now he can go out and play and be a vital part of our team," said Gator teammate Jeff Corsaletti, who was with McArthur the night of
Oct. 30, 2003, when he was attacked.
McArthur's recovery has been faster than anyone could imagine, but it's still ongoing.
"When I first got to the hospital, to see him laying there in that bed, it freaked me out at first. And then I knew it was out of my hands," said his mother, Valerie Bullock.
"I knew Brandon's will and his passion. I knew the doctors
would put him back together and he would be back on the field. But did I believe he would be back as soon as he has? No way."
McArthur was a fifth-round pick by the Minnesota Twins after high school, but with his mom's urging he went to Florida instead.
"Brandon really wanted to go in the draft," Bullock said. "I pushed him to go to college and two months later he comes within an
hour of losing his life. That decision really haunted me."
On the night that changed McArthur's life, he was punched by Jonathan Head, a former Florida student he never knew. Head was later sentenced to a one-year jail term, with house arrest and probation to follow.
McArthur still doesn't know why it happened.
"I don't remember anything, stuff before the incident I didn't remember. I didn't remember some of my teammates' names and stuff like that," McArthur said.
"In the hospital I thought I was in Atlanta for a summer baseball tournament," he said.
Therapy at a rehab unit followed two weeks in the hospital. After his release, he underwent intense sessions with a trainer to get his body back in shape, regain his weight -- he'd dropped more than 30 pounds -- and increase his strength.
He was forced to redshirt his first season at Florida but did play summer baseball a year ago, even though he needed another surgery after a blackout.
"You know what type of kid he is. He's a fighter," Corsaletti said.
McArthur played in 58 games for Florida and made 54 starts this season, batting .274 and homering against archrival Florida State
in the super regional. He also started the Gators' first three
games in the College World Series, going 1-for-12.
The Gators were set to play Arizona State on Thursday night for the right to play Texas in the championship series beginning Saturday.
While McArthur's baseball skills have mostly returned, some things might never be the same.
His sense of taste is gone and is ability to smell is very limited.
"I can't smell anything unless I get real close to something that's real strong like a foul-smelling garbage can," McArthur said with a laugh.
How difficult is it to eat when you can't taste what's on the plate?
"I try to remember what it used to taste like," he said.
For sure, he knows what baseball is all about again. Feeling the sun on his neck and the sweat on his jersey helps compensate for the other losses.
And maybe someday he will be drafted again. Right now, winning the College World Series and soaking up the experience is what matters.
"He has a better value on life than he did before the incident happened," his mom said.
"It's been very emotional. It has been all along throughout everything ," McArthur said. "This is what my family wanted me to do when I came to college."