Derek Campbell wasn’t even two weeks into his freshman year when he heard that his first collegiate baseball season at Cal would be his last.
“Not the thing you want to hear as a freshman,” said Campbell of the school announcing the baseball program would terminate after the 2011 season. “I entrusted in my coaches that everything was going to be OK.”
Turns out it was.
The Golden Bears snuck into the playoffs and crashed the College World Series that season. And with fevered fundraising efforts that rivaled their performance on the diamond, Cal’s baseball program survived.
“The only way to succeed is through failure,” Campbell said.
But since then, the Golden Bears, on the field, have seen mostly the latter. Cal enters 2014 hoping to do away with its injury-plagued 2013 campaign in which it finished 23-31.
“I literally, at some point, was welcoming everything to go wrong all at once,” said David Esquer, who is entering his 15th season as the Golden Bears’ coach. “Let’s have it all one year, let’s get it out of the way.”
Esquer lost four of his starters to injury last season. And all are expected to play this season as Cal opens the season Friday hosting 18th-ranked Texas.
Among those who missed last year were outfielder Vince Bruno, shortstop Mike Reuvekamp, pitcher Michael Theofanopoulos and utilityman Campbell, who broke his leg while playing second base 11 games into the season.
“It was a huge adversity I had to deal with,” Campbell said. “But we advocate we gotta pick each other up.”
Sophomore Devin Pearson is who picked Campbell up, batting .302 with 17 RBIs last year.
“I think we’re a little bit of a dark horse,” starting pitcher Kyle Porter said. “Being forced to play when you’re not at your best really teaches you how to be a hard-nosed baseball player.”
Filling out the starting rotation will be freshman arms Dalton Jefferies and Alex Schick, who will see action this weekend against Texas. Southpaw Theofanopoulos will also start. Ryan Mason will likely pitch out of the bullpen and closer Trevor Hildenberger returns for a fifth year.
Sophomores Jesse Kay and Mitchell Kranson will compete for the starting catcher role. But Cal’s toughest test will likely be its schedule.
Besides competing with the talent-rich Pac-12 Conference and Texas, they face Cal Poly and Arkansas, both just outside the top 25 rankings.
“This season, we don’t want to get through it, we really want to come out on top,” Campbell said. “It’s going to fully prepare us for regionals. And I say that with confidence, because I truly feel we’re a regional team.”