Jack Mosbacher was a member of the Stanford baseball team from 2008-2011. Each week, he’ll take a look at the Cardinal’s ups and downs on its road to the College World Series.
When you looked at the No. 1 Stanford baseball team’s schedule prior to the start of the year, this past weekend’s series against Fresno State would not have stood out one bit.
Because it was sandwiched between series with No. 12 Vanderbilt, No. 5 Texas and No. 7 Rice, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that this would be the series when we’d really learn about the character and resilience of this highly touted baseball team.
But it was. In fact, we learned far more about the Cardinal this weekend than in any other week because the Cardinal was on the road for the first time, and because the Cardinal actually lost.
Rolling into Fresno touting an unblemished 8-0 record, the Cardinal had plenty to be confident about. Following back-to-back sweeps of Vanderbilt and Texas, the Cardinal wore a No. 1 national ranking on its back for the first time in a decade. And on a cold, windy Friday night, the Cardinal (and stud pitcher Mark Appel) was beaten.
Frankly, you don’t learn much about the character of a team in an early-season sweep. After all, you have no way of knowing how good or bad the losing team actually was until it is tested in the crucible of later competition. So despite the early-season excitement surrounding Stanford’s two early sweeps, you weren’t going to see me too excited. The sample size available for judgment was just too small, and the sample quality of these traditional powerhouses was misleading at best (See: Vanderbilt being swept by Oregon and Texas limping out of the gates at 4-7, including a loss to lowly UT-Arlington).
After this weekend, however, I’m truly excited. Why? Because the Cardinal lost and then responded like a champion should.
Trust me when I say that the Stanford baseball players like being good. They enjoy the pressure of being called the best team in the nation. And they knew how disastrous a series loss to an unranked opponent would be for their national standings. So, when the Cardinal dropped its first game of the year on Friday night, the players didn’t just get mad; they got even. And then they rubbed it in a little bit.
In the final two games, the Cardinal treated Fresno State like a little brother who had just scored a lucky basket in a pickup basketball game. Stanford outscored the Bulldogs on Saturday and Sunday by a combined score of 25-2. I think the message the Cardinal sent to the baseball world was clear: losses are not only flukes, but we will treat them as personal insults.
That’s an exciting prospect because this won’t be the only Friday game the Cardinal loses this year. While you’re unlikely to find anyone outside of the Appel family who believes in Mark as much as I do, the Stanford ace will be going up against some of the best opposing pitchers in the country this year, including fellow first-round talents like Arizona’s Kurt Heyer and Arizona State’s Brady Rodgers.
Like I’ve said, we didn’t learn much that we didn’t already know about the Cardinal in its first two weekend series. We knew the team was loaded with talent and that, on paper, it could play with any team in the country. What we didn’t know was how it would respond to eventual adversity.
Would Stanford be like the elementary school bully who pushes kids around until somebody actually hits back? Or would the Cardinal be the type of team that relishes the challenge of playing the underdog every once in a while, much like the last Stanford team to make it to the College World Series in 2008?
Three weeks into the season, I’m ready to admit that I’m excited about this Stanford baseball team, because it is exactly the type of team that people like to watch. The players have confidence and swagger — they know they’re good — but they also aren’t afraid to play like they have a chip on their shoulder. They believe that anything short of a trip to the World Series in Omaha would be a disappointment.
The Cardinal’s reaction to Friday’s loss speaks volumes about the character of this team. One thing is for sure: Stanford won’t be going down without a fight.