Baseball: Arik VanZandt
May 25, 2002
One ... two ... three OMAHA!
The Stanford Baseball team has a cheer after practice every day that sums up in just a few words their goals and expectations for the 2002 season. For Arik VanZandt and the other five seniors, it's not just another trip to the College World Series. If the team advances to Omaha this June the group will be the only class ever at Stanford to make it all four years.
'We've won a lot as a class, and we have an opportunity to go to the College World Series for the fourth time,' says VanZandt. 'That's pretty impressive and Omaha is an amazing place.'
Looking back on his freshman year, he remembers not really knowing what to expect from Stanford, but the older players taught him a lot.
'It was a great starting point for me,' he says, remembering his rookie campaign. 'We had some good role models, Josh Hochgesang especially, being an infielder, took me under his wing. I learned a lot from watching the other guys play, too.'
When Arik's class came to Stanford, there were a group of specific key players who led the way for the first two seasons. Then as juniors last season, the group was thrust into an early leadership role as juniors on a club with no seniors. Most positions were wide open with only three starters returning from the 2000 CWS runner-up. The young and inexperienced 2001 club molded itself together to return to the College World Series championship game, far exceeding the expectations of most people. The group worked together to create a new team dynamic and prove that Stanford baseball was still one of the top programs in the country.
'This year's team is even closer,' he comments. 'We've all been together, some of us for four years, and it's a group without any real superstars. It's definitely very team-oriented.'
A big part of the team's closeness for VanZandt is being in the middle of the jokes and trying to help the newer players learn that Stanford is all about balance. VanZandt claims that you can be loose and still play at the top of your game.
'Particularly at the end of the year, every game and every pitch are important, and that's when you've really got to relax because you've got to perform your best,' he says. 'I try to help the younger guys out by joking around with them when they start to get frustrated, that's been one of the most important things I've learned here.'
He has done a lot to help out the team off the field, but he's made his biggest impact being a arguably the team's most versatile defensive player.
VanZandt came into Stanford as a shortstop/third baseman but moved to first base last season after a hot bat at the end of his sophomore year got him in the lineup as a designated hitter in the second half of 2000 (.337, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 2 SB). His move to first base immediately bolstered the Cardinal defense, which led the nation and set a school record with a .977 fielding percentage last year. VanZandt was a huge part of the defensive effort with sparkling defensive plays and a consistent effort as he committed just two errors in 648 chances for a .997 fielding percentage. Offensively, VanZandt contributed a .262 batting average, six homers, 32 RBI and nine stolen bases.
VanZandt's defensive versatility has paid off for him again as senior. After having his role reduced to a part-time starter at first base early in the year after the offensive emergence of freshman Donny Lucy, he got another opportunity to return to a full-time starter when third baseman Andy Topham was injured on March 2 against Cal Poly. VanZandt immediately stepped in at third base and not only played excellent defense but also got his bat going, going 13-for-25 (.520) with two triples, a homer, seven RBI and five stolen bases in his next seven games.
When Topham returned, VanZandt moved over to first base and has been there ever since.
After spending time at first and third base this season, he has built up a .993 career fielding percentage, with only seven errors in 939 chances. VanZandt uses the team's live-infield drill to work on skills at both corners so he can be prepared to play on either side. His defense will be very important for the team to win this weekend's series versus Washington State and have a chance at finishing on top of the conference.
'We really need to play well and get some big wins, so we can carry that momentum into the postseason,' emphasizes VanZandt. 'Our spot in the Pac-10 is very important in terms of hosting postseason games.'
With the season coming to an end, all six seniors know how crucial every game is and what they have accomplished over four years at Stanford. They've learned a lot as players and as students, and hopefully they can pass what they've learned on to the next generation of Stanford Baseball players.
'Looking back, I think about all the games we've won and all the good times we've had together as a team, on and off the field - I'm going to miss it for sure,' VanZandt says. 'Four years is a long time and you mature a lot. I didn't really know quite what to expect, but it's been quite an experience.'
by Erin Walker
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