Top of the fifth inning. Stanford baseball has just taken a 9-5 lead over Fresno State in the winner-take-all finale of the regional. Head coach David Esquer walks over to the home plate umpire. Junior left fielder Kyle Stowers is standing in the on-deck circle. First, a pitching change. The Cardinal have just jumped on one of the Bulldogs’ best bullpen arms.
Stowers is pulled over by his head coach.
“I had a couple players come up to me and say, ‘Coach, we need to tell him because it will relax him,’” Esquer said. “Anything to keep him loose I was all in for.”
Stowers was drafted 71st overall to the Baltimore Orioles. A slot value worth an estimated $884,200. A loud cheer from his teammates, a louder one from the Stanford faithful. In his final game in Sunken Diamond, he goes out a winner, feeling like a champion.
“It just shows how close-knit of a team we are. We all felt like we got drafted when he got drafted, he’s a part of us,” said junior catcher Maverick Handley. “I’m so happy for him.”
Hugs all around, and Stowers still has the bat in his hand. A curtain call, a tip of the hat. A moment, a memory that will last a lifetime for a culmination of a lifetime of work.
“I’m so proud of our guys stepping back from what was at hand to enjoy the moment with Kyle,” Esquer said. “A lot of teams talk about being family, and being close, and a brotherhood, and we actually live that.”
And then back to work. There were still fifteen outs to record, and Stanford was running out of bullpen arms, or so it seemed. But then junior Zach Grech recorded two outs. Sophomore Brendan Beck, whose brother Tristan was drafted 112th a year ago by the Atlanta Braves, recorded the next ten outs in order. With three outs to go, junior Jack Little was the inevitable choice. Strikeout swinging. Strikeout swinging. Strikeout looking. Game over.
Stanford’s all-time save leader with 28, Little will seek to build on that in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. Oh, yeah, he was drafted too, on Tuesday, 161st overall in the fifth round. A 2018 All-American who is all class.
Little walked off the mound, then halfway to home plate, where he greeted his battery mate, Handley, with a handshake and a hug. Handley, the Most Outstanding Player of the Stanford Regional, the Pac-12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and the 168th selection in this year’s draft.
After the game in which Stowers was drafted, Handley said, “I would want to know when I got drafted.”
He found out soon, less than a day later, that he was drafted to the same organization as Stowers. The same organization that took Mike Mussina in the first round of the 1990 draft and made him Stanford’s first Hall of Famer.
Stanford would not have been in the position to clinch a regional without the pitching performance of junior Erik Miller the day before. Exorcising his demons from the past two seasons, Miller struck out a career-high twelve batters to carry Stanford out of the Sunday elimination game. A standout performer in high school projected to go as high as the fifth round, Miller informed major league clubs he would honor his commitment to Stanford. Honor he did, and now he joins the Philadelphia Phillies as the 120th overall selection in the fourth round.
Quietly, junior Will Matthiessen led the Cardinal in batting average in the regional (0.368), as he has all season (.322). When his name was called 184th overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates, however, he was announced as a pitcher. In fact, the West Linn, Oregon native, who has started every game of the year, is a finalist for the John Olerud Award, awarded to the best two-way player in college baseball. Matthiessen also leads Stanford in on-base percentage (.399) and RBI (52), to accompany 12 home runs and a 3.71 ERA.
Whether these Cardinal crack the show, make an All-Star team, win a World Series, or even become Hall of Famers is still to be seen. But first, Starkville.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.