Baseball Begins Final Season With Series Against Utah
Friday, February 18, 2011
Category: Sports > Spring > Baseball
Today could have been the beginning. It could have signaled the start of a fresh interstate rivalry, a peek at a new perennial matchup. But a week ago, the Cal baseball team found out it was not granted another season, and Utah's impending move into the future Pac-12 simply kept the conference squad count at 10.
The two teams have played once before, with Cal the victor. The cuts to athletics now seemingly final, they'll play three more times at Evans Diamond, starting when the first pitch flies out this afternoon at 1:30 p.m.
The Bears are perched at No. 17 in the country according Baseball America and at various points along the fringe of the top 25 according to nearly everyone else. The goal, of course, is the College World Series, which means Cal will need to more than halve that number by season's end.
The squad has a roster that returns nearly every significant piece, armed with a motivation unlike any other in the nation.
"We're a dangerous team, we're very good and we're playing for ourselves," sophomore second baseman Tony Renda said.
If the Bears are as dangerous as their Freshman All-American believes, they'll come out with a vengeance this weekend.
Utah is picked to finish sixth in the Mountain West. It has a single, shining light in first-team All-American catcher C.J. Cron - the team's lone preseason all-conference selection. Cron led the nation in RBIs per game at 1.65 and was ranked in the top 10 in both slugging percentage and home runs per game.
Friday pitcher Rick Anton, who earned second-team all-conference as a junior, returns for the Utes as well, but the rest of the starting rotation has been gutted by graduation. First and second base will be manned by experienced players, but the entire outfield is up for grabs.
Cal is just the opposite. Junior Erik Johnson, who sported a 4.02 ERA last spring, will go head to head against Anton today. All-Pac-10 first team selection Justin Jones will follow, while Dixon Anderson and his mid-90s fastball reprise the Sunday spot.
The only departing starters are second baseman Brian Guinn, an 11th-round draft pick in last year's MLB Draft, and first baseman Mark Canha, who earned team MVP and was taken by the Florida Marlins in the seventh round. The latter cracked a team-leading five home runs in Pac-10 play, along with 38 RBIs, but it wasn't his statistical accomplishments that made him stand out.
"At my years at Cal, probably the most important player I've ever had was Mark Canha," coach David Esquer said. "As far as what he did for our program in attitude and, more importantly, in practice attitude."
Even without the 6-foot-2 San Jose native, Esquer called this the best practicing team he's ever had at Cal. He'll soon be able to see if it makes for on-field perfection.
A previous version of this article referred to junior Erik Johnson as a senior.
The Daily Californian regrets the error.
Jack Wang covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected]
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