Sports

NCAA berth allows Diekroeger streak at Stanford to survive

When senior Danny Diekroeger sprints to first base to take his position Friday morning against Indiana State in an NCAA regional game in Bloomington, Ind., it will mark the 210th-consecutive game a Diekroeger has been in the lineup for the Stanford baseball team.

His older brother, Kenny, was a three-year starter for the Cardinal, and now plays professionally for the Wilmington Blue Rocks (Kansas City) in the Class A Advanced Carolina League.

And the streak could grow. Mikey Diekroeger, a senior infielder at Menlo School, has been accepted to The Farm and will play baseball for Stanford next year.

"I can't wait to see what he's going to do here," Danny said. "He's a good player and he works hard. Growing up, we went to a bunch of games, but I never thought we would all come and play baseball here. It's pretty cool how things have worked out."

Added Kenny, "The odds of all three of us going to Stanford to play baseball . . . they're so long, I don't think any of us considered it."

Now that it has become a reality?

"We don't take things for granted and we work for what we have," said Kenny. "It's a very cool streak and fun to be a part of that."

You can probably guess how their mother and father, Kathy and Ken, feel about it.

"I'm very proud of them," said Ken, a Stanford graduate and Woodside resident. "Every once in a while, I just stop and appreciate how lucky we are. It's been a lot of fun."

While all three sons were standout athletes at Menlo, Kathy is arguably the best athlete in the family. She ran cross country and track at Dartmouth and still holds several school records.

Ken and Kathy have seemingly spent half their lives at Sunken Diamond.

"But I'm not complaining, because I know it ends," he said.

Both have their own way of watching their sons play.

"At some point, when Kenny and Danny were playing together, I just sat back and thought, 'This is really cool. Enjoy it while it lasts and stop worrying about what happens, whether they're playing well or not playing at all,' '' said Ken. "Just appreciate it."

Kathy has a different routine.

"She certainly enjoys it, but is probably tired of going to baseball games," he said. "Most of the time, you'll find her at the top row doing her crossword or reading a book while she's watching."

Originally drafted by Tampa Bay in the second round of the 2009 Free Agent Draft, Kenny opted for Stanford instead. In 2010, he was selected Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and first-team all-conference. Kenny played third base, batted .356, and shared the team RBI lead with 41, the first frosh in school history to accomplish the feat.

Danny followed his brother to The Farm in 2011 and appeared in 19 games, earning five starts as the designated hitter. He started 10 games at DH in 2012 and was picked to the NCAA Stanford Regional All-Tournament Team. Last year, he started all 54 games, and this season he has been a mainstay in the lineup. Highlights include reaching base safely in 17 straight games and producing back-to-back walk-off hits at Sunken Diamond in April.

At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Mikey is the biggest and strongest of the three. In four varsity seasons at Menlo, he has posted a career batting average of .360, a .493 on-base percentage, collected 107 hits, 55 RBI and scored 106 runs. Mikey also has 26 doubles.

"They've been great," said Mark Marquess, Stanford's head coach. "Mikey is a good player and will come in and help and play. Probably the most high-profile one was Kenny because of the draft status. Probably the most low-profile one was Danny, but he's been phenomenal for us, especially this year with his leadership. Mikey is kind of in between them both; he's a draftable guy, left-handed and hits with power."

Growing up, the boys played football, basketball and Whiffle Ball in the backyard, with Mikey usually trying to keep up.

"My dad taught me how to swing a bat," Mikey said. "Kenny and Danny used to pick on me when I was 5-years-old. I always tried to stick with them and play with them. I never actually played on a team with Kenny, but I've played a game or two with Danny and practiced with them a lot."

Said Danny: "Mikey had to sort of elevate to keep up with us. I was always a little smaller than Kenny, so I had to elevate my game to match up with him. That competition that we had growing up definitely helped us a lot."

Once Kenny got to Stanford, Danny would pal around with his friends. Mikey has done the same with Danny's friends.

"Kenny set a great example ahead of me with work ethic and training," Danny said. "When you see the guy ahead of doing that kind of stuff, then you just feel like that's what you're supposed to do."

Mikey has had the good fortune to learn from both.

"Obviously, being the youngest child, it's definitely an advantage to have two older brothers go through what you are about to go through," he said. "We'll take grounders and hit together, but to be honest, it's more off the field, like get your school work done. They're both pretty studious people.

"Kenny is always getting on me to sleep a lot and make sure I eat right. He hovers over me like a brother and also a parent, making sure I have all my stuff together and do all the little things that can help improve my game.

"For Danny, it's more the mental part of the game. More than anyone I know, more than anyone I've played with, I think Danny has one of the best mindsets and approaches to the game. He has a lot of confidence in himself. He wasn't given many chances his freshman and sophomore year, but took advantage of them. Danny is always texting me things like, 'Mikey, try this; focus on your breaths; on the on-deck, make sure you're imagining that pitch you want.' They both help me in different ways."

Danny readily admits it was tough following in Kenny's footsteps, but it has also helped motivate him.

"That's how it's been for my whole life," said Danny. "And I think people always expected a little less of me than Kenny, just because he was always talented and I was a little smaller and less high-profile. I felt if anything, I have sort of had that edge that I wanted to prove myself and show that I could be as good as him or better."

Last summer, Danny hit .314 in 36 games with the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod Baseball League. He, like Kenny, is eyeing a pro career. But big brother knows it's a huge jump from college to the pros, and is still finding his way.

"It's a whole different ballgame," he said. "Just being away from Stanford and the people is completely different. Playing every day; busing all over the country. Everybody in pro ball is extremely talented. Not that college is not, but for us, the big leagues are in sight and competition is very stiff to get there.

"It's really forced me to be even more disciplined and mentally strong. If anything, I've learned how tough of a game it is and how hard it is to truly succeed. It's a tough but fun challenge."

Mikey would love to pick up where Danny leaves off at the end of this season, and is well aware of the Diekroeger streak. But he's not going to put added pressure on himself.

"That streak is definitely a goal of mine, but I'm not going to let that affect me if I don't end up starting," said Mikey. "It's a cool little stat that I'd like to keep going. It's doable, but I'm going to have to earn it. Kenny and Danny both did, and I have to, too."

Ken hasn't given it a second thought.

"Mikey's been able to spend a Iot of time with Danny's friends and Kenny's friends," he said. "They don't hold anything back. He has a better understanding of what life is like and what it takes than any other kid that has ever come into the program. I'm just happy that he's going to school here next year and will be on the team. If he plays at all, that will be a bonus. If he plays well, it will be an even bigger bonus. That's kind of how I felt with Kenny and Danny."

Marquess likes his chances.

"All three of them are very versatile," Marquess said. "Danny has played second, short, third and has done fantastic at first base. Kenny was the same; he could play anywhere. I think Mikey is the same way. But his bat is big time."

Marquess is grateful to the entire Diekroeger family for everything they have done for Stanford Athletics.

"Ken and Kathy have been fantastic supporters of the program," said Marquess. "We're real fortunate to have local players play here, because we don't get a lot of them at Stanford. It makes for a nice situation."

All three brothers credit their mom and dad for helping them pursue their dreams.

"My parents are the best in the world," Mikey said. "Without them, I don't think we would have a chance to be where we are today."

Comments

Posted by Dennis, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 29, 2014 at 1:44 pm

This is a great article not only because it is about the greatness of Stanford baseball but more important the power and validity of family love and support. Our society needs more families like this one, our future depends on it and the example they lead.


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