Publication Date: Friday Jun 2, 2000
NCAA BASEBALL: He walks softly, carries big stickStanford sophomore Chris O'Riordan has gone from walk-on to starter and a .368 hitter
by Rick Eymer
When Chris O'Riordan walked into the office of Stanford baseball coach Mark Marquess as a freshman, he was given a pretty bleak view of his chances. After all, O'Riordan wasn't on the Cardinal's list of recruits. "I didn't want him to feel he was deceived," said Marquess. "I expected the guys I recruited to play better. He didn't travel and he didn't play last year. I told him there were guys ahead of him, though he'd get a fair shot."
O'Riordan, who was accepted at Stanford on his academic merits alone, said the meeting had some impact on him. His twin brother, a pitcher in the same situation at Stanford, decided to concentrate on school.
"But I wanted to test the waters for myself," he said. "I knew I wanted to play ball, though I didn't have the highest expectation. I just thought I'd give it a try and see what the competition was like."
A year later, as Stanford (45-14) prepares to meet Nebraska (50-15) in the NCAA Super Regional at Sunken Diamond beginning tonight at 7 p.m., O'Riordan not only has the second-base job, he owns the second highest batting average (.368) on the team.
There's not much of a chance he'll get taken out of the lineup these days.
"It was a matter of getting a chance and he got it and performed well," said Marquess. "He kept working hard in practice."
O'Riordan won the job in competition with Andy Topham (now the regular left fielder and O'Riordan's roommate) and Scott Dragicevich.
"For the first 15 games or so, we divided time among them," said Marquess. "Chris then took over. We knew he had a dangerous bat, but he surprised us with how well he played defense. You can't afford not to play defense up the middle. He has a small strike zone and he's hard to pitch to. Plus he has some pop."
O'Riordan is listed at a generous 5-9 in the Stanford program, even though he's closer to 5-7. Whatever his height, he's shown he belongs on the same field as anybody in playing the game today. What helped O'Riordan is playing with three seniors in the infield.
"It's awesome," said O'Riordan. "(Shortstop Eric) Bruntlett is one of the most impressive fielding guys I've ever seen. He keeps me relaxed, keeps me going. (First baseman Craig) Thompson is great, and (third baseman John) Gall is a great leader. You throw me out there in a mix of underclassmen and you're not sure about things. The seniors show a lot of confidence because they've been there, they've walked this road before."
"It's an easier fit with the older guys around him," Marquess said. "Not much was expected of him. This year he was just a little piece of the puzzle. Whatever he gives us is great. Next year, more will be expected of him. He has a good personality. He's always up and always plays hard. That's just part of him."
O'Riordan hit .412 (7 for 17) during the regional, including a 2-for-4 effort with two RBI in the 16-6 victory over Alabama that gave the Cardinal the regional title.
At the beginning of the season, he couldn't possibly think he would be in such an enviable position, two, perhaps three, games removed from the College World Series.
"The situation didn't look great coming in," said O'Riordan. "We play a lot of intersquad games here, so I was able to get a feel for the pitching even when I was a freshman (and not playing). I felt if I could hit well off a pitching staff that's one of the best in the country, I could hit college pitching."
So despite a freshman season that saw him participate in only two games and forced him to listen to the road games on the radio, O'Riordan preserved.
"Things just fell into place," he said. "I was pressing in the fall because I wanted to move up on the depth chart. When I started relaxing, and tinkering with my swing a little bit, that's when I felt good and started playing well."
O'Riordan had good reason to believe he could play, after earning first team all-state (small school) honors his senior year at Bishop's High School in San Diego. He played summer ball in 1999 for the Orange County Barracudas and in '98 with the Tijuana Mayos of the San Diego Rookie League.
Despite that kind of experience and success, O'Riordan never knew whether he would be in Stanford's lineup or not early on this season. How, however, he feels comfortable enough that he doesn't need to worry when he has the rare bad game.
"That's a great plus," O'Riordan said. "I feel like I have my spot set in the lineup. Earlier, if I had a bad game, I might not be in the lineup the next day. Now I feel comfortable."
Meanwhile, Jason Young (8-0, 3.53) is set to start tonight's game against the Cornhuskers. Justin Wayne (13-3, 3.24) will pitch Saturday's 1 p.m. Marquess has yet to name a starter (it's probably between Tim Cunningham or Brian Sager) if the series should go to Sunday.
Nebraska's pitching plans may have to be shuffled following the loss of sophomore starter Shane Komine, who underwent surgery to correct a broken jaw suffered during in a 2-1 victory over Butler last Friday. Komine is 11-3 on the year, with a 2.14 ERA. Jamie Rodriguez (9-3, 2.53) and Trevor Bullock (6-1, 2.21) are expected to start the first two games.
The winners of the eight Super Regionals advance to the College World Series, which begin June 9 in Omaha, Neb.