After spending more than two decades as an assistant baseball coach at Cal State Fullerton, Rick Vanderhook finally was given the top job.
Lessons learned from 11 trips to the College World Series offset his lack of head coaching experience. In 2012, his first year as the Titan skipper, CSUF finished first in the Big West, and he was named the conference’s coach of the year.
Vanderhook, also known as “Hook,” returns to Goodwin Field with his slew of MLB hopefuls on Friday.
The Titans enter the 2013 baseball season as the three-time defending Big West champions, and have been picked by many to repeat again. In a poll of all ten of the conference’s head coaches, nine of them picked CSUF to finish in first place. One vote went to UC Irvine.
Hype is nothing uncommon for CSUF, which has never had a losing season in 35 years of Division I play. The Titans have won the Big West Conference 10 times in the last 14 years. Fifty-one players in the program’s history have gone on to play Major League Baseball.
“We have a target on our back, and other teams look forward to playing us,” said junior center fielder Michael Lorenzen. “They come in, they bring their best guys, they play their best games, and we enjoy that. You know, that’s our mentality. We want you to come in and play your best games, and we’re gonna show you that we’re gonna bring Titan baseball to the table. You bring your best, we’ll bring our best, and we’ll see who comes out on top.”
Lorenzen, who started all 57 games in 2012, also finished 20 of them on the mound. His 16 saves in 17 chances tied him for second-most in the program’s history behind Scott Wright’s 22 in 1984. Despite his effectiveness on the mound, he prefers playing center field.
“I love the aspect of having to be an athlete to play center field. Running down fly balls, hitting, stealing bases—all that good stuff,” Lorenzen said.
Lorenzen is far from the only standout player on the team. Others include infielder Matt Chapman (2012 Big West Player of the Year), first baseman Carlos Lopez (led the team with 22 multi-hit games), and right handed pitcher Grahamm Wiest (5-5, 3.12 ERA, 3 CG).
Filling over a third of the 36-man roster will be 14 freshmen—three of which have already been drafted by Major League Baseball teams.
“They’ve learned a lot. We’ve thrown a lot at them,” said Vanderhook of his freshmen. “Now we just want them to take what they’re good at that we’ve taught them, and just do that and not worry about what they haven’t accomplished yet.”
Nine of the 14 freshmen are pitchers.
“They’re young, they’ve come a long way since the start,” said catcher Chad Wallace of his new battery mates. “Just gotta talk with them, just fill them in, let ‘em know how they’re doing. But they’re doing well—really well—getting the hang of it.”
The Titans will open the season with four games in three days, beginning with opening night against USC on Friday and a next day double-header against Nebraska. The Titans will then travel to CSU Bakersfield on Sunday.
Another date to take notice of is March 22 when the Titans kick off a three-game series at Long Beach State. The 49ers visit Goodwin Field May 3-5.
“You almost get more amped for those games because you know how it is,” Wallace said. “It’s just fun.”
“Let’s just say we’re looking forward to it,” Wiest said when asked about the current state of the rivalry.
The Titans are currently preparing for the season by hitting against their own pitchers four days each week in addition to regular practice. While batters work on their swings, outfielders track fly balls, infielders turn double plays and catchers handle balls in the dirt.
“We just try to go out and do what we are supposed to do and play the game good,” Vanderhook said. “We’ve been fortunate to win more games than not, so we don’t try to change any of the ingredients or anything with it, it’s just, you know, play our brand of baseball. Go out and play it for nine innings and come out on the right side at the end.”
“I’m just trying to do anything I can to help the team, anything I can do to make the team better,” said Lopez. “Obviously, our goal as a team is to play one game at a time, try to win one game at a time, and hopefully it leads to Omaha (host-site of the College World Series). That’s really where we want to end up.”
A sign on the right field wall reminds the Titans that Omaha waits just more than 1,500 miles away, but Vanderhook preaches that focusing on the task at hand is more important than looking far ahead.
“Just play one game at a time,” Vanderhook said. “Omaha is so far in the future that we’re not going to worry about that. We can’t worry about that or even accomplish that in February.”
Hook’s one-game-at-a-time philosophy will be put to the test beginning Friday at 7:00 p.m. when the USC Trojans pay a visit to Goodwin Field. General admission tickets start at $8 and can be purchased at the Athletics Ticket Office (657-278-2783) Monday through Friday, or online at FullertonTitans.com.
“Our February thing is we’re looking forward to our first weekend, playing four games against three different teams, and competing against someone besides ourselves, which we’ve been doing for a long time. It’s going to be exciting and fun, and we’re up for the challenge.”