For Stanford, season is new;
for Diekroeger, it's his debut
Menlo School grad Kenny Diekroeger could just as well be in Port Charlotte instead of taking the field with the rest of his Stanford baseball teammates to open the season on Friday night in Sunken Diamond.
Diekroeger, a second-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in June, spent part of this past summer hanging out in the owner's box at Tropicana Field and taking batting practice with the likes of Evan Longoria.
"That was a special experience," Diekroeger said. "It's something I will always remember because of the all-star treatment. I talked to Evan Longoria a little bit. He's an all-star and has been on magazine covers."
Diekroeger, though, decided he would be better off pursuing his education. It helped that Stanford always held a special place in his heart.
"I saw my first game here," he said. "I was 10 years old and we had good seats on the first base side. What I remember most is coach (Mark) Marquess with all his energy, and his style of playing the game."
Diekroeger has been fully indoctrinated into that style and is expected to be an important part of the Cardinal lineup as it opens the season with a three-game series with visiting Rice. He's likely to start at third base, and also will see action at shortstop, second base and designated hitter.
Stanford (30-25 last year) looks to return to the postseason after missing out last year. It was just the fourth time since 1980 the Cardinal were not part of the party, and the second time in the past three years.
Diekroeger joins an experienced team that features five returning position starters and eight pitchers who appeared in at least 10 games last year.
"There's an extremely high level of baseball in the Pac-10," Diekroeger said. "Some of the best pitchers in the country are here. You can't find a better collection."
Three sophomores make up the starting rotation heading into the season. Jordan Pries (4-4, 4.62 last year) is scheduled to start Friday night's 5 p.m. game, with left-handers Scott Snodgress (1-3, 5.85) and Brett Mooneyham (6-3, 4.14) scheduled to follow Saturday and Sunday afternoons respectively.
"These are young sophomores but they will be strong," Marquess said. "They all pitched well last year. The Pac-10 is pitching dominant so it will be a tough league."
Among the 10 returning pitchers, seven recorded at least one victory and all but one had a decision. The staff has a combined 134 games (312 2-3 innings) of experience, including 35 starts.
"I've been counting down the days to the season," Pries said. "There's a whole new core of talent and I hope to build on last year. I had a couple of good outings but I wasn't consistent."
Seven freshmen are also listed as pitchers, making this a deep staff. The only thing lacking may be a closer, since Drew Storen headed off to join the Washington Nationals' organization after last year.
Marquess said the likely replacement candidates include Danny Sandbrink or Alex Pratcher. Michael Marshall, Palo Alto grad Carey Schwartz, Brian Busick, Kyle Thompson and Chris Reed also return with some experience.
Pries had no idea what to expect as a freshman and he ended up leading the staff with 76 innings pitched.
"There was no way to expect that," Pries said. "I just wanted some sort of role. I got the first start at Texas and though of it as a big opportunity. Fortunately I ended up starting the rest of the year."
Diekroeger joins an infield that has been rated among the best in the country, if not the best. Second baseman Colin Walsh (.320, 25 RBI), shortstop Jake Schlander (.232, 22 RBI) and Adam Gaylord (.289-2 HR-27 RBI) give Stanford an experienced, quality defense that should alleviate worries among the pitching staff. Schlander is the reigning Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
"There are a lot of returners in the infield and there are a lot of good freshmen," said Walsh, who participated in the Cape Cod League all-star game over the summer; a game played at Fenway Park. "There's a lot of talent back and yet it's a new team. It could shape up to be a very good year."
Like Diekroeger's trip to Tampa, Walsh had a transcendent experience in Boston, where he played in front of a large contingent of professional scouts.
"It was an unreal experience but it helped me overall," Walsh said. "There's something special about going to Fenway and being in the stadium and on the field. It all added up to a unique experience."
Toby Gerhart won't be around this spring but Stanford's outfield still will be quite good with the likes of Kellen Kiilsgaard (.313-9-46), who came to Stanford as a quarterback but will likely leave as a high draft pick in baseball.
"He'll be in the middle of the lineup," Marquess said. "His power potential is huge."
The rest of the outfield will be patrolled by returners Kellen McCool, David Giulani and Christian Griffiths among others.
Griffiths also gives the Cardinal quality depth at the catching spot. Zach Jones (.239-3-26) moved in fro third base and took over the starting spot there last year. Ben Clowe (.274-3-11) is another top-notch receiver whom Marquess would love to see in the lineup as much as possible.
Jonathan Kaskow and Brian Moon also come back with solid game experience.
Palo Alto grad Peter Abrams and Menlo School grad Jack Mosbacher head a list of redshirt freshmen who will give Stanford a deep bench.
Other redshirts include Scott Colton, Justin Schwartz, Stanley Fich, Elliott Byers, Kevin Morton and A.J. Talt.
Diekroeger isn't the only local freshman on campus. Sacred Heart Prep grad Ryan Sadowski also joins the Cardinal. The nation's second-rated recruiting class (by Baseball America) also includes Mark Appel (no relation to Jayne), Sahil Bloom, Garrett Hughes, Chris Jenkins, Dean McArdle, Gavin McCourt, Trevor Penny, Stephen Piscotty, Justin Ringo, Eric Smith and Jacob Stewart.
"This is a special year for college baseball as this is the last year Rosenblatt Stadium will be used for the College World Series," said Marquess, quick to point out Omaha is building a new downtown stadium.
Local athletes also will be playing at several Northern California schools this spring. Palo Alto High grad Alex Schmarzo will pitch out of the bullpen for St. Mary's, Palo Alto's Tyger Pederson will use his redshirt season for Stanford grad Ed Sprague at Pacific, Menlo-Atherton grad Jonathan Abramson will be pitching for USF and Menlo Park resident Mike Couch hopes to be pitching for Santa Clara.