Baseball: Dan Rich
May 11, 2002
Baseball is a game of streaks and slumps, and every player has his ups and downs. Perhaps no player on the Stanford Cardinal knows this better than senior pitcher Dan Rich.
Rich's Stanford career began on a high note with a phenomenal freshman campaign in which the lefty compiled a 3-1 record and a 3.66 ERA and helped his team to the College World Series with a crucial save in the championship game of the NCAA Regional versus Nevada. The future looked very bright for the Ohio native.
To everyone's surprise, however, Rich suffered through a rough sophomore season, falling off to a record of 0-2 with an 11.37 ERA in just 6.1 innings pitched. The lowest point in Rich's Stanford career came in his junior season, when a season-ending arm injury early in the campaign limited him to only two appearances, leaving Rich wondering if he would ever pitch effectively again.
'Last year was probably the hardest year of my baseball career,' Rich said. 'It was really hard watching from the stands, knowing I could have been out there helping the team win.'
Rich entered the 2002 season surrounded by question marks. The question marks only grew when Rich got off to a rough start in his first two appearances versus Cal State Fullerton and Florida State, allowing the four batters he faced a 1.000 batting average and permitting all four runners he inherited to score.
But if Rich has learned one thing at Stanford, it is how to persevere through tough times, and he battled back with six consecutive strong outings against Santa Clara (2/23), California (3/10), USC (3/23), Saint Mary's (4/16), Washington (4/20) and Oregon State (4/27), giving up just one earned run and striking out 20 batters in 16.2 innings to cement his status as a go-to arm in the Stanford bullpen.
In a year in which few expected Rich to play a very significant role, he has exceeded even the wildest of expectations by dominating the competition, recording a 2.11 ERA, limiting opponents to a .211 batting average, and racking up 25 strikeouts in 21.1 innings of work.
Behind every comeback are people who care. Rich credits his family for keeping him grounded.
'My Mom and Dad have always been supportive and always let me know that no matter what I do in my life and no matter what I accomplish, that they're there for me.'
Rich is especially pleased that his grandmother, Louise Fletcher, is coming out for the first time in his four years at Stanford to watch him play during the Arizona State series.
Rich also credits his high school mentor Chip Winiarski, a former White Sox and Indians farmhand who has supported him throughout his Stanford career.
'He's been a big part of my success both in high school and here at Stanford.'
As hard as his sophomore and junior years were, Rich feels that his struggles with ineffectiveness and injury have actually contributed to his current success this season.
'My sophomore year, I just did not pitch very well, but after the season I worked very hard and it paid off. I had a good summer that year. Last year, not playing at all, I had a chance to work hard on conditioning and get into good shape for this year, and that has been a big part of my success.'
One of the keys to Rich's dominance, both this year and in his freshman season, has been his strikeout ability. Thanks to a devastating changeup that can make even the best college hitters look foolish, Rich currently ranks second all-time in the Stanford record book with 10.29 strikeouts per nine innings over his career, behind only Steve Dunning's 10.74.
Unlike most strikeout artists, Rich doesn't blow the ball by batters.
'I don't throw the ball very hard, so most of my strikeouts come not from overpowering hitters but just getting ahead and making them swing at pitches they normally wouldn't.'
After his Stanford career ends, Rich hopes to get drafted by a major league team and play baseball for as long as he can. Even if things do not work out, Rich notes that 'a Stanford education is a great backup plan to baseball.'
Rich knows it's a long hard road to the majors, but don't count him out. After all, for Dan Rich ups and downs just come with the territory.
by Nick Kapur
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