April 5, 2005
Michael Taylor has had an eye on Stanford for quite some time. When he was a freshman at Apopka High School in Florida, he sat down with his parents David and Sheryl to take a look at a college future that was still nearly four years away.
'Stanford was high on the list,' recalls Taylor. 'It was kind of a benchmark I set for myself.'
Taylor had seen Stanford play on television at the College World Series and the school seemed to have everything he wanted in a college experience - an excellent baseball program, great academics and nice weather.
Despite playing his prep baseball nearly 3,000 miles away from The Farm, Taylor says that 'Stanford is a hard place not to know about' when high school student-athletes, especially those with strong academic pursuits, are scouting prospective places to play.
When he came to Stanford on one of only two official visits he took as a prospective student-athlete, he knew this was the place for him.
'Stanford had it all,' remembered Taylor.
Still, there was one more potential obstacle. With Taylor expected to go very high in the 2004 MLB First-Year Player Draft, there was always the chance that the lure of professional baseball would be too great.
In fact, Taylor still had dreams of signing a professional baseball contract out of high school but when everything shook out, he ended up on The Farm.
'I just decided that I wasn't going to pass on the opportunity to go to Stanford and have that type of collegiate experience for anything less than lifetime security financially,' explained Taylor, who was projected to be drafted in the second round but ended up not being selected in large part due to his Stanford commitment.
He may have actually made that commitment in his own heart and mind around the time he and his parents had those discussion during his freshman year.
'I ended up creating an email address of email@example.com around that time', laughed Taylor. 'A lot of pro baseball people were probably worried about that one.'
When he arrived at Stanford this past fall, the freshman outfielder made an immediate splash with a grandslam and a 3-for-3 effort in the team's annual Alumni Game last October. With the entire 2004 outfield having moved on to the professional ranks, Taylor surged to the top of the list of replacements.
When the first pitch of the 2005 season was thrown against Fresno State on January 30, Taylor found himself as the team's starter in right field to place him in an elite foursome (Jason Cooper Sam Fuld, Brian Hall and John Mayberry, Jr.) that had started the first game of their Stanford careers since the 2000 campaign.
Taylor was quickly introduced to the reality of collegiate baseball by a Fresno State pitching staff that held him hitless in his first series. The season-opening skid grew to 0-for-13 before he finally got his first Stanford hit in the team's fifth game of the year at Cal State Fullerton.
He got a lot more than just a batting average when he got that first hit. He also reassured a confidence that is needed for any athlete to succeed.
'There is a moment for any athlete when you wonder `How good am I?',' admitted Taylor when asked about the way he began his collegiate career. 'It's easy to have your confidence shaken a little, but in your head you know you can compete.'
It didn't take long until everyone else knew it, too.
Taylor posted his first multiple-hit game versus Kansas on February 13 and followed it with three more in a six-hit series at perennial national power Texas in his next three contests.
It's been a steady rise ever since and Taylor has raised his average from a season-low .087 after his first seven games to a current mark of .284. In his Pac-10 debut at Washington State last Friday, he showed his adjustment to baseball at the collegiate level is moving along at a nice clip with his first career four-hit game that also included a career-high three doubles and a career-high-tying three RBI.
Not only has Taylor begun to put up nice numbers, he has also played with an intensity and focus that exemplifies Stanford Baseball.
'You realize right from the start that coach Marquess is serious,' said Taylor, who recalled a situation involving his new coach in the team's series at Cal State Fullerton earlier this season.
'Someone hit a line drive during batting practice that ricocheted off something and hit him in the face,' said Taylor. 'He was bleeding, but he just kept going. I remember thinking `This guy is not playing around.''
Neither is Taylor, who claims that the atmosphere around Stanford Baseball has been everything he wanted.
'We work for every thing we get on and off the field, and that prepares you to be professional,' explained Taylor. 'I want to be a professional baseball player and a professional human being. Stanford Baseball prepares you to do that.'
He also credits his parents for an upbringing that has prepared him to deal with any situation.
'I have had a great life so far, but my parents haven't sugarcoated anything,' claimed Taylor. 'They are very honest and as I grew up, I think I was intelligent enough to see that a lot of the things they were talking about in life were true. I didn't always like everything, but I still respected what they had to say.'
'My mom is very spiritual and told me that whenever you are going through tough times, the Lord is making you stronger for another time in your life,' he continued. 'My dad told me not to waste opportunities and to exhaust whatever talent I had, and if that wasn't good enough then I would still feel fine with my life.'
He must be feeling really good right about now.
by Kyle McRae