(Note: This article is
part of a series, by Jeff Dahn, that highlights specific collegiate baseball
programs going into the 2011 season. To
view the articles on other schools in this series please click here.)
Student-athletes at Stanford University in the San Francisco Bay area community of Stanford, Calif., have Ivy League minds trapped in Pac-10 bodies.
The prestigious academic university lies on an opposite coast from the eight equally prestigious universities that comprise the Ivy League, but shares their same rigid academic standards and requirements.
The difference between Stanford and, say, Harvard lies not in academics but in athletics. As a member of the NCAA Division I Pacific-10 Conference, the Stanford Cardinal perform on a large national stage.
It’s a platform the Cardinal baseball program under 35-year head coach Mark Marquess has embraced and thrived upon. Marquess and his longtime associate head coach Dean Stotz have succeeded in bringing not only talented baseball players to the Bay Area, but players who also exhibit extraordinary talent in the classroom.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, only 26 current Major League baseball players and managers have college degrees and eight of them are Stanford grads.
It’s difficult for Marquess to find players who can perform at the Pac-10 level on the field and at a Princeton level in the classroom, but he somehow makes it work.
“That’s a challenge, obviously, but I also think that’s our greatest strength,” Marquess told Perfect Game in a recent telephone conversation. “Somebody from Texas or Florida or wherever may come to Stanford because of the academic reputation of the school. They’ll leave Florida (or) they’ll leave Texas if it’s a fit for them because it’s such an elite academic university.”
That means Marquess and his staff are forced to recruit nationally for their talent, not unlike the other athletic and academic programs at Stanford. Marquess said more than half of the university’s nearly 6,900 undergraduates come from outside of California, so his program is simply a reflection of the rest of the school.
Fifteen of the 39 players listed on the Cardinal’s 2010 fall roster came from out of state, including six from the Ivy League states of New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
“To find the kid who can play at the level we’re trying to play at in the Pac-10 and compete at the national level, and get into a school with an Ivy League-like admission (standard), you have to go all over the whole country,” Marquess said. “If you look at the top programs out west and in California in particular … I’d say 90 percent of their roster is California. I’d do the same thing.”
He continued: “If there are 10 great high school players in the state of California – and in reality, if you’re at a college in California, why would leave the state for players? But if there are 10 great high school players in the state, maybe, if I’m lucky, in a given year I can recruit one or two of those people because of the academics.”
Marquess and Stotz, both Stanford grads, have been together at their alma mater for 35 years (Marquess, Class of ’69, also served as a Cardinal assistant coach for five years). Marquess is quick to point out that any accomplishments listed after his name should also be listed after Stotz’s.
Together, they led Stanford to back-to-back national championships in 1987-88 and have finished as national runner-up three other seasons (2000, ’01 and ’03). They have taken 14 teams to Omaha for the College World Series starting in 1982 (Stanford teams also advanced to the CWS in 1953 and ’67) and there have been 26 NCAA Regional appearances, six NCAA Super Regional championships, and 12 Pac-10 titles in their 34 seasons.
When Marquess and Stotz started really building the program in 1977, their goals weren’t that lofty.
“We felt that maybe one year out of four we could compete at the national level because it was going to be difficult to find the players, but we’ve been able to do a lot better than that and that’s a credit to the players and to Coach Stotz,” Marquess said. “That doesn’t happen very often when you have two guys together for the whole time. We’ve learned together and figured out where we needed to go.
“The school takes care of itself,” he continued. “People want to come to the school (and) parents are aware of the school. And once you have some success in baseball, then they think, ‘Hey, I can still get the great academics and yet I can still maybe go to the College World Series.’ That’s what they want to do.”
The Cardinal finished 31-25 overall after two losses in the Fullerton Regional in 2010, and were fourth in the Pac-10 at 14-13 behind Arizona State (20-7), UCLA (18-9) and Washington State (15-12).
This season Marquess is once again going to put a very young team on the field. He started four freshmen in 2010 – first baseman Stephen Piscotty, shortstop Kenny Diekroeger, and outfielders Tyler Gaffney and Jake Stewart – and 2010 freshman right-hander Mark Appel was solid out of the bullpen.
Sophomore second baseman Eric Smith is expected to compete for a starting spot this spring and three freshmen who are members of Stanford’s highly touted 2010 recruiting class should play prominent roles. They are right-hander A.J. Vanegas, third baseman Brian Ragira and outfielder Austin Wilson.
Vanegas, Wilson and Ragira were all Aflac All-Americans in high school. Vanegas was selected in the 7th round of the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft by the San Diego Padres, Wilson went in the 12thround to the St. Louis Cardinals and Ragira was a 30th round pick by the Texas Rangers, but all three decided to enroll in school.
Another top member of the 2010 class is infielder Lonnie Kauppila, who was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the 44th round.
“We have a lot of young players, so it was a good opportunity to give them a feel for the program and for us to evaluate them,” Marquess said. “We’re real young. We have quite a few of our pitchers back but basically our position players, with the exception of one or two guys, are all freshmen and sophomores.”
Diekroeger, who has received some preseason all-America notice, hit .356 with five home runs and team-high 41 RBIs last spring. Gaffney (.328, 42 runs) and Piscotty (.326, 4 home runs, 36 RBIs, 45 runs) also had solid seasons at the plate.
Junior left-hander Brett Mooneyham and junior right-hander Jordan Pries should head the weekend rotation. Senior catcher Zach Jones – a three-year starter – is the only upperclassman listed as a probable position player starter.
All of those players were active participants in Perfect Game events while in high school, something Marquess thinks is important.
“It’s beneficial to everybody. There are no surprises because there are so many opportunities for the high school kids to get the exposure to the college coaches,” he said. “It’s much easier to identify the better players … but the bottom line is, it helps the young man get the exposure that he didn’t have 20 years ago.”
Marquess thinks the health of NCAA Division I baseball is generally excellent overall, despite the fact that some programs have been shut down – most recently the excellent one at the University of California-Berkley, a member of the Pac-10. Marquess called that development “sad” but also realizes the state schools in California have a lot of funding issues right now.
“Despite that … college baseball has never been in better shape,” he said. “What’s changed is, when I first started doing this you could pick one of five teams that would win the national championship … and one of those five would win it. Now there are 50 teams that you would have to say, and it might not end up being one of those 50.”
Stanford opens its 2011 non-conference season on the road against national powers Rice in Houston, Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., and Texas in Austin, Texas. That’s a brutal road-trip to begin the season (there are home games at Sunken Diamond against Cal and Santa Clara sprinkled in between) but Marquess said it’s worth it.
“There’s a good and a bad to that,” he said. “When you play those people, where you might be weak, well, you’re going to find out. Now your overall record isn’t going to be as good but there’s no better way to prepare yourself for conference (play). Our players want to play the very best and we get the very best, and sometimes you take your lumps.”
Stanford’s last appearance at the CWS was in 2008, and this spring Marquess and Stotz will be looking to put a halt to that brief two-year absence. Some early rankings are listing the Cardinal as a top-10 team and expectations will be high on campus and among the fan base despite the youth of the 2011 club.
One thing is certain: Marquess has spent his entire adult life on the Stanford campus and he has no intentions of leaving anytime soon. When a place is a good fit and is easily recognized as such, why leave?
“It’s where I went to school and I raised my family here and three grown daughters, and I’m working with outstanding student-athletes,” Marquess said. “There are challenges at every school (and) our academic standards are very high, but that’s our strength, too. It’s a great place to work and I work with great young men.
“We’re educators first … and the majority of our kids loved their experience and that’s what’s great about college baseball. We have a good product but it’s all about kids getting their degree and learning from the game, and they do learn from the game.”
What follows is a list of players on Stanford’s 2010 fall roster who either participated in Perfect Game events or created a PG profile while still in high school. Click on the player’s name to view his complete PG profile:
Mark Appel – PG National/PG National Underclass/PG WWBA
Sahil Bloom – PG WWBA
Brian Busick – PG National Showcase/PG WWBA
Elliott Byers – PG National/PG National Underclass/PG WW BA/PG BCS
Ben Clowe– PG WWBA/PG BCS
Brett Michael Doran – PG WWBA
Stanley Fich – PG National Pre-Draft/PG Spring Top Prospect
Tyler Gaffney – PG WWBA
Christian Griffiths – PG National/PG California Underclass/PG WWBA
Garrett Hughes – PG WWBA
Chris Jenkins – Aflac AA Classic/PG National/PG Aflac/PG WWBA
Zach Jones – PG National/PG National Underclass
Lonnie Kauppila – PG National/PG California Underclass
Dean McArdle – PG Kernels Foundation/PG Wrigley Field/PG Spring Top Prospect
Brett Mooneyham– PG WWBA World
Jack Mosbacher – PG Sunshine West
Trevor Penny – PG California Underclass/PG WC Top Prospect/PG WWBA
Stephen Piscotty – PG WWBA
Jordan Pries – PG National Showcase/PG WWBA
Brian Ragira – Aflac AA Classic/PG National/PG Aflac/PG WWBA/PG BCS
Justin Ringo – PG National/PG Wrigley Field/PG WWBA
Danny Sandbrink – PG National/PG Kernels Foundation/PG WWBA
Eric Smith – PG California Underclass/PG BCS
Jake Stewart – PG South Underclass/PG WWBA
A.J. Vanegas – Aflac AA Classic/PG National/PG WWBA
Austin Wilson – Aflac AA Classic/PG National/PG WWBA
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