The Mid-American conference is pretty much the way it reads, a collection of colleges located in the heart of the U.S. and stocked with students who are primarily from the region.
The MAC athletic programs are no different. Rosters are almost exclusively filled with athletes from the Midwest.
Occasionally, the local talent can’t fulfill all the needs of the sports teams, forcing coaches to look beyond their usual boundaries.
Ball State baseball coach Rich Maloney tends to look further than others.
After two of his outfielders who hit at the top of the batting order graduated in 2018, Maloney was desperate for replacements.
Maloney reached out to his connections 2,000 miles away at Cypress College and the coaches there were confident they had the perfect fit in Aaron Simpson, a former two-sport star at Servite who not only made a habit of filling voids, but rising beyond expectations in the process.
Simpson, meanwhile, never expected to continue his college career in Muncie, Indiana, but was also getting anxious. He firmly believed that he had the ability to help a team win at the Division I level.
Turns out, Maloney and Simpson both had good instincts.
Simpson arrived at Ball State last season and immediately established himself as the team’s leadoff hitter, starting every game in center field. He finished second on the team with a .321 batting average, and first in steals (14) and on-base percentage (.422).
The highlight of his first season came when he slammed a sixth-inning two-run homer in the semifinals of the MAC tournament, giving the Cardinals the lead in an eventual 8-7 victory.
“That’s how you win,” Maloney told the Ball State Daily News last month. “You win when people step up and do some things that you had hoped they would do, but it was unproven, so you didn’t know if they would do it.”
Of course, stepping in and immediately helping his team win is nothing new to Simpson.
After receiving limited playing time his first two seasons on the Servite varsity football team, Simpson opened his senior season in the fall of 2015 by catching six passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-7 victory against Fountain Valley.
Three weeks later, he was called upon as an emergency fill-in at quarterback against Edison and calmly threw a touchdown pass and ran for the game-winning score in the 21-14 victory.
He showed his excellence and versatility as a three-year starter on the Friars baseball diamond as well.
Simpson led the team in hits, runs and RBIs as a senior in 2016.
He also threw 10 1/3 scoreless innings on the mound with 11 strikeouts.
Simpson initially played baseball for the University of San Diego as a freshman, but opted to transfer back to the junior-college level as a sophomore in hopes gaining attention from Division I recruiters.
Simpson hit .297 with 24 RBIs and a team-high 10 stolen bases in his only season at Cypress College, earning first-team All-Orange Empire Conference honors.
Those numbers, along with strong recommendations from others, was enough to convince Maloney to give Simpson a shot.
“When we can find somebody to help us right off the bat, it’s a no-brainer,” Maloney said.
Simpson began his senior season with the Cardinals on Feb. 14.
For the first time in the several years, he doesn’t have to worry about proving himself.