Feature: Baseball's Darin Naatjes
April 2, 2002
The term 'all-around athlete' doesn't do justice when describing what Darin Naatjes means to the Cardinal. His athleticism and versatility have made him an invaluable member of both the Stanford football and baseball teams. He has continued to impress Cardinal fans this year as he stepped off the football field and onto the pitcher's mound.
The transition from football to baseball is already difficult.
'It's very different training,' explained Naatjes. 'For football, you have to lift heavy weights and you want to tighten everything. Then, you come out to baseball and you want everything to be loose so that you can throw.'
As Naatjes prepared to make the changeover, his return was met with a proposal from head coach Mark Marquess that suggested a completely different transition for Naatjes and that has led to his new role in the Cardinal bullpen.
The 6-7 junior from Alvord, Iowa was originally looking to break into the Cardinal's tight lineup. Naatjes, who has a natural prowess for hitting, compiled a .507 career batting average in high school as a centerfielder and hoped to contribute offensively to the team. But, Marquess was more interested in Naatjes's other high school statistics. As an imposing right-hander, he posted a career ERA of 1.44 with 182 strikeouts in only 125.2 innings of work and Marquess hoped that Naatjes would refocus his efforts on pitching.
'It was hard for me to get at bats off of live pitching because right after winter break, we start the season,' said Naatjes, who saw little action as a position player during his first two years with the Cardinal. 'Coach Marquess said the team could really use me as a pitcher. It was difficult at first because I wanted to keep hitting, but it's easier now that I'm pitching and feeling good about it.'
Naatjes picked up his first collegiate victory last Thursday when Stanford came from behind to beat Texas, 7-6 in 10 innings. Texas stranded two base runners when Naatjes retired Ryan Hubele on a deep fly ball to center field and then watched Johnny Ash single in the winning run for Stanford in the bottom of the inning.
He was also a big factor in Stanford's previous series against California, appearing in the Friday and Sunday games to secure Stanford leads. During Sunday's rubber game, Naatjes entered the game with the winning run at the plate and successfully retired Conor Jackson on a ground ball back to the pitcher that ended the game and gave Naatjes his first collegiate save. In seven appearances this season, Naatjes has recorded seven strikeouts and a 1.93 ERA.
'I think the Cal series showed that my arm is coming around and getting stronger,' said Naatjes. 'It's nice being a pitcher because you are always in control when you are out there on the mound. The game goes nowhere unless you do something, so you control the way things flow. In the role I'm in now (middle reliever and closer), it's kind of fun because you have a lot of adrenaline and get to go out there and throw one or two innings.'
Naatjes, whose positive outlook starts with himself and extends to his team, will be a valuable part of Stanford's deep bullpen this season and Cardinal fans have a lot to look forward to from this disciplined and natural athlete.
'Personally, I am just looking forward to becoming a better pitcher because it's all new to me, and it's a different mentality,' said Naatjes. 'I'm just concentrating on having a good baseball season. As a team, we haven't played our best baseball yet, and it's still early in the season.'
by Amanda Canevaro