Kobernus Embodied Cal's Silent MVP
Monday, June 1, 2009
Category: Sports > Spring > Baseball
From the word go, this was the season of Brett Jackson and Blake Smith.
They were Wallace Award watch listers, preseason all-Americans and anticipated to be high draft picks. Scouts came and went at Evans Diamond, talking on cell phones with their respective ballclubs and making notes on clipboards about the lauded pair.
And, for the most part, they met expectations. Both players finished the season with batting averages above .300 and combined for 79 RBI, and at the end of the season, they were both named first-team all-Pac-10.
All things considered, you'd think that Jackson and Smith are leaving behind a massive void for the Cal baseball team to fill. But neither one is the player that the Bears will miss the most next season.
That distinction belongs to second baseman Jeff Kobernus.
No one was more consistent than Kobernus, who started all 53 games for the Bears at second base and ended the season hitting .341-higher than both Jackson and Smith.
On a team that struck out at a prolific rate, Kobernus easily bucked the trend. For the season, he whiffed just 25 times in 217 at-bats.
No one made contact like Kobernus, who didn't walk much, didn't strike out often, just hit like there was no tomorrow. Seventy-four hits speaks for itself. Add to that 20 stolen bases-second-most in the conference this season-and the Bears had a complete player that did nothing but produce at the plate for three solid years.
Considering all his accomplishments, it's hard to believe that he's managed to fly under the radar.
After all, it was Kobernus-not Jackson or Smith-who was a freshman all-American. He had better career stats over three years and never batted below .300 in a season.
Last summer he even played on the same team in the Cape Cod League as Jackson and, surprise, had better numbers than him in spite of the fact that Jackson was named the eighth-best player in the league.
Kobernus is even listed at the same height as Jackson and Smith-6-foot-2-but there aren't many who would guess it. Jackson and Smith fill their uniforms, while Kobernus swims in his.
Maybe it's his personality. He's spent his career at Cal acting more like an undercover agent than a second baseman.
Before games, he stood off on his own and stretched with the centered peace of a yoga instructor. After each game was over, he would quickly hook into his iPod, already off in his own world as he hurried out of the stadium.
On autograph days, kids flocked around Jackson and Smith, goaded by knowing fathers who have heard those names and recognized those faces. Kobernus often signed the stragglers' posters, the kids who had already nabbed the big names and were just looking for a few more signatures.
Next season, Cal will find someone to replace Jackson in center-though God only knows who will ever again cover that much territory at Evans Diamond-and now-junior Mark Canha's power-hitting prowess is already surpassing Smith's.
But who will anchor the infield the way that Kobernus-the model of consistency sprinkled with moments of Omar Vizquel-esque genius-did? Until Brian Guinn shows that he's better than the 24 errors he made at shortstop this year, he isn't the answer. The fact is, the Bears don't yet have one.
Jeff Kobernus' three years at Cal may have been three of the best-and three of the quietest-the program has ever seen.
But next season, no one's absence will be louder.
Which Cal player will you miss the most? Tell Katie at email@example.com.
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