STANFORD — Two and a half years ago, Cal’s baseball program was placed on the chopping block. The community responded by providing the funding to keep the program alive, and the team responded by making a historic run to the College World Series in 2011.
While the program was saved — and will even get lights and a new scoreboard at Evans Diamond this spring — the near death of the program is not without repercussions.
Cal’s recruiting suffered two years ago with cancellation looming, and coach David Esquer is feeling the effects heading into next weekend’s season opener, at home against Michigan.
“We no longer have the Tony Renda’s of the world, the Chadd Krist, the Chad Bunting’s of the world,” he said. “The kids that were so instrumental in our World Series run. So instrumental in our getting to the playoffs three out of four years.”
The bright spot for Esquer will be the return of first baseman Devon Rodriguez, who missed the majority of 2012 with a knee injury. Esquer estimated that injury cost the team 10-12 wins, a difference that may have put them in the postseason picture once again.
Cal’s archrival faces a different outlook on the 2013 season, as Stanford prepares to open the season at Rice on Feb. 15. Right-handed starter Mark Appel was projected by many to go No. 1 overall in the 2012 draft, but instead fell to eighth and could not reach a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Instead the Cardinal’s best player returns with hopes of making it to Omaha in his final season.
Stanford returns seven starters and seven pitchers from 2012, when they went 48-18 before falling in the NCAA Super Regionals when Appel was knocked around just a few days removed from the disappointing draft.
“He’ll tell you it didn’t, but I think it affected his performance in the Super Regionals against Florida State,” coach Mark Marquess said.
“It was just unfortunate timing for that game.” Appel said “I’m not going to make excuses.”
This year, however, Appel will take his last final on March 18, and will have one less distraction to worry about for the remainder of the season.
In The City, USF faces a situation very similar to where they were heading into last season: Pitching and defense as their backbone, while hoping for enough offense to stay competitive.
Justin Maffei will be key for the Dons after leading the WCC in batting average and stolen bases last season.
“We’re glad to have him back,” coach Nino Giarratano said of the outfielder who will hit leadoff. “Professional baseball could have swooped him up and he decided he wanted to come back to college baseball to finish his degree.”
Abe Bobb, Alex Balog and Christian Cecilio will form the rotation that will be the backbone for the Dons.
USF opens its season at home against Cal Poly on Feb. 15.