If this really will be the last year in the 12 decades of baseball at Cal, then the Golden Bears have every intention to go out with a bang.
“We’re going to give them one hell of a last season,” Bears coach David Esquer said.
The Bears entered this weekend’s three-game Caravelle Resort’s Tournament in Conway, S.C., feeling good about themselves after a 2-1 start to the season.
Cal is coming off a 2010 season that saw it finish 29-25 and reach the NCAA regionals. For 2011, Cal has its sights set on one last Pac-10 Conference title before the team walks off Evans Diamond for the last time.
And right in the middle of that mix is sophomore second baseman Tony Renda, a Serra High School alum, who has already caught Esquer’s eye as well as many others.
“He’s one of the best freshman hitters I’ve ever seen,” Esquer said prior to the team heading for South Carolina this past week. “He’s one of the best pure hitters I’ve ever coached.”
Renda’s freshman season was almost a career for other players as he batted .373 in 54 games with three home runs and 37 RBIs hitting out of the leadoff spot for most of the season. But Renda performed no matter where Esquer put him in the Bears’ lineup.
“We moved him around a lot last year before we decided he was better off batting leadoff and getting as many at-bats as possible,” Esquer said. “This year we’ve moved him to third in the lineup, but he can hit anywhere.”
About the only thing Renda did not do last year for the Bears was hit a grand slam, something Esquer figures will happen sooner rather than later. But whether or not he does that in a Bears uniform remains to be seen.
Unless the decision to discontinue the baseball program is somehow reversed, Renda and his nonsenior teammates will all face the prospect of finding another school to play for next year.
“It’s been on their minds, especially before the season started,” Esquer said. “But its part of our job to make sure these kids are taken care of and we’ve spent some time with them doing just that.”
Esquer noted that the players have come to terms with being the last Bears team and have dedicated themselves on helping the program go out on a positive note and letting the future take care of itself. But finding a new home for Renda isn’t too much of a concern for Esquer, who figures the infielder will have plenty of schools willing to give him a place to finish his collegiate career.
“He could go anywhere he wants,” Esquer said, comparing Renda to major leaguer Dustin Pedroia. And Esquer figures there’s even more baseball ahead for Renda beyond his college days.
“He absolutely has a pro career waiting for him,” Esquer said of Renda, who was drafted out of high school by the Los Angeles Dodgers. “He’s an unbelievable person and one of the finest young men I’ve ever met.”
A look at Tony Renda’s freshman season for Cal in 2010:
.373 Batting average
3 Home runs
55 Runs scored (fifth best in the Pac-10)
13 Stolen bases (eighth best in the Pac-10)