With every Little Leaguers dream being to land a spot on a professional baseball roster, Kenny Diekroeger two years ago made an unfathomable decision to some, but undoubtedly the right choice to himself.
“I had a really tough decision,” said Diekroeger, recalling the choice of accepting the Tampa Bay Rays’ offer to play professional baseball or attending Stanford, just 2½ miles from where he played his high school ball — Menlo School.
“I had two choices where I really couldn’t go wrong with either one,” he said. “Ultimately, I decided that Stanford was the right place for me. To be a part of this tradition of excellence … it’s something I’ve always dreamed of.”
But the 20-year-old’s dreams on the diamond don’t end with him manning the Cardinal infield. And after bypassing Tampa Bay’s second-round draft choice, the 200-pounder’s choice of staying local and developing his game seems to be paying off ... so far.
“He’s just a talent,” Stanford baseball coach Mark Marquess said. “He just needs to play. He’s got all the tools you want to see in a baseball player.”
Those tools showed last season as Diekroeger tallied a .350 batting average while nabbing the Pac-10 Freshman Player of the Year award. Regardless of a posting a slightly lower .299 batting average so far this season, the sophomore has still started at shortstop in every game but one, and maintains that he’ll see another opportunity to play in the majors.
“He’s just learning how to play,” Marquess said, citing Diekroeger’s multisport high school career. “His average isn’t as good this year, but this year he isn’t a surprise. People were pitching to him last year.”
Like Diekroeger, the Cardinal have also struggled at times as they gear up for another potential College World Series run. Having dropped their last home game of the season to Cal Poly on Tuesday and only being about 10 games above .500, Stanford rode a six-game win streak in early May.
“This season, we’ve had our ups and downs,” said Diekroeger. “But overall, I think we are a really talented team. The goal of the regular season is to put yourself in the best position for the postseason. We’re playing really well ... we’re hot. That’s what baseball is, whatever team is hot, usually wins it.”
Marquess credits his team’s success to what he calls “the most difficult schedule” he’s had in his 35-year tenure at Stanford. But the abundance of road games and facing national powers has injected resilience into his ball club.
“If the schedule doesn’t kill us, it makes us stronger,” he said. “For this team, I’m pleased with where we are.”
And with the pairings for the College World Series set to release Monday, we’ll see if playing Stanford will be prove too tall an order for surrounding competition, or if the Cardinals again will be chopped short of title contention.
WHAT: NCAA Division I College World Series pairings revealed
WHEN: Monday, 9:30 a.m.