Baseball: Ryan Garko
January 26, 2003
Rosters on some of the nation's best college baseball teams are often devoid of seniors that sign professional baseball contracts following their junior years. Despite an outstanding reputation for its academics, Stanford has not been immune to the lures of big time money and the dreams of playing pro baseball. But times are beginning to change and senior catcher Ryan Garko is part of a growing trend on The Farm that has seen several players stick around for their senior seasons in recent years.
The trend has helped the Cardinal extend its school record string of consecutive College World Series trips to four and further entrench itself among the best collegiate baseball programs in the country.
In 2000, an extremely experienced Stanford team that featured five senior starters, almost unheard of in the world of college baseball, advanced all the way to the CWS championship game before falling in a 6-5 heartbreaker to Louisiana State. Four of the five seniors were either drafted for the first time or higher than they ever had been in the 2000 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Stanford again found itself with a senior-laden team in 2002, including an infield featuring senior starters at all four positions. Three of the four players - Chris O'Riordan (2B), Andy Topham (SS) and Scott Dragicevich (3B) - were drafted for the first time ever in 2002. O'Riordan (8th) and Topham (9th) were both selected in the top 10 rounds.
This June, Garko thinks he will find himself in the same boat. One of the nation's most highly regarded and dangerous power hitters, Garko has proved he is one of the top catchers in the nation over the last two years. As a sophomore in 2001, he led the Cardinal with a .368 batting average. Last year, his power numbers went up when he blasted 14 homers and drove in 55 runs, earning semifinalist honors for the Johnny Bench Award given annually to the nation's top collegiate catcher. Despite his enormous success and legendary clutch play over the past two years, Garko did not have to worry about choosing between professional baseball and one final season at Stanford, because he was not drafted last June.
'I don't think it was a talent thing,' said Garko of last year's draft. 'I don't feel bitter towards not getting drafted or that I need to go out and show people that I'm one of the better college catchers in America.'
'I think this season is a real opportunity for me to lead this team to a national championship,' continued Garko. 'I'm really excited to be back at Stanford. I love Stanford and everything about the school. I've had a lot of personal success here, and I hope that continues, but I really want to win a national championship.'
Garko has been in reach of a national championship that has eluded the Cardinal for nearly 15 years since Stanford won back-to-back titles in 1987 and 1988. He was a backup catcher as a freshman on the 2000 club and part of a youth movement that nearly led the Cardinal to the 2001 title. Last season, Garko started every game for a Stanford team that reached a CWS bracket final before falling to eventual national champion Texas.
'Being an everyday player for the last couple of years, I've seen about every situation that can present itself,' said Garko. 'I think I can help our younger guys and be that player on the field that has the situation under control. I've been part of a lot of victories and know what it takes to win at this level.'
The circumstances that brought Garko back for his senior year also might allow him to make some dents in the Stanford record book, but those ideas remain far from his thoughts.
'I really haven't looked at lot of the records,' laughed Garko. 'I'd rather be the guy that wins the national championship.'
'I want the team to remember me as someone who played hard every day,' continued Garko. 'If I do that and stay healthy, I'll put up some good numbers and walk away from Stanford proud of the things I did and the way I played. When the draft rolls around this June, I will have my degree and hopefully a team will like me enough me to give me an opportunity to play professional baseball. That's always been a dream of mine. I know I can play at that level, and I know I'll get my chance.'
But for now, the player who once adorned the moniker 'Budding Superstar' is hoping to enjoy a final spring of blossoming on The Farm, both on the field and off.
'The best thing about this year is that I've gotten one more chance to just be a college kid and enjoy life,' said Garko. 'These are the best years of your life, and you'll never get them back. Not getting drafted last June has really given me an opportunity to sit back and realize how great college life at Stanford really has been for me. I am really soaking it all up and enjoying one last go around at Stanford.'
Opposing teams wish he had entered the working world last summer.
by Kyle McRae