Practice Makes Perfect
March 27, 2001
Hometown: Boardman, OH
High School: Boardman
Stanford Highlights: Has recently become Stanford's regular starting catcher...Perfect in 136 career defensive chances.
Stanford is known in the college baseball world as being one of the top places for pitching. This year, the story is no different. In fact, it may be an even better story in 2001 than in recent years. The regular starting rotation of Jeremy Guthrie, Jeff Bruksch and Tim Cunningham has posted an amazing 15-0 record and a 2.18 ERA through the first 26 games.
But, there is more to the story.
Good pitching staffs are usually complemented by strong catchers and the Cardinal may have one of the nation's top defensive catchers in sophomore Ken Tirpack.
Tirpack is just beginning to create his own identity within the Stanford Baseball program. He began the season starting exclusively on Sundays to catch left-hander Tim Cunningham and showed impressive defensive skills but was hitless in his first nine at bats. However, on his third Sunday start at Texas on February 18, he picked up a pair of hits. In his next start nine days later versus Nevada on a Tuesday afternoon, Tirpack picked up two more hits. Suddenly, he was an emerging candidate to become the team's regular behind the plate and has moved from part-time starter to full-time starter as he has been in the team's starting lineup for each of the past seven contests. Tirpack has continued to contribute offensively, hitting safely in each of his last four games.
Still, that is not the primary reason Tirpack has become the team's every day catcher. He is a defensively oriented catcher who knows how to handle a talented pitching staff and has been flawless in the field. In fact, he indeed has a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage over the last two years and has not made an error in 136 career defensive chances.
Tirpack started his Stanford career last season like so many other eventual standouts -- on the bench. Although he played in only eight games last year, he did begin to contribute defensively in some key situations as a late-inning defensive replacement for Damien Alvarado, who started 65 of the team's 66 games behind the dish.
Although he admitted feeling a normal level of frustration with his lack of playing time last season, Tirpack didn't let his time on the bench discourage him. Instead, he chose to learn and did a lot of that by catching bullpens.
Most catchers, including Tirpack, consider catching bullpens drudgery. Still, Tirpack knew he could improve his skills.
'I had to catch a lot of bullpens last year,' said Tirpack. 'It definitely made me a better catcher. You can work on framing, blocking balls and lots of other things.'
Tirpack often had lots of time during the bullpen sessions to improve, or at least reflect upon improving.
'Pitchers take forever when they throw bullpens,' joked Tirpack. 'They are definitely a different breed. They make a couple of pitches and then they talk about it. I remember one time last year when Jason Young was struggling mechanically. I think he threw about 120 pitches in a bullpen. It seemed like it lasted about an hour and a half. He kept getting more and more mad. It was not pretty.'
Although he acknowledges that the drudgery of catching bullpens make you better, he does admit that he and his fellow catchers still make attempts to avoid them.
'Make sure you're not around '9' when he's looking for somebody to catch a bullpen,' jokingly advised Tirpack. 'You kind of cover your head and turn your number. But for the most part, it is inevitable.'
On the serious side, Tirpack rarely turns from responsibility, and he is now primarily responsible for a pitching staff that is arguably the nation's best.
'This year's staff has been phenomenal,' said Tirpack. 'Hopefully, they can keep it going. There's been a lot of goose eggs up on the scoreboard so far.'
Tirpack has been the nest for a lot of those.
by Kyle McRae
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