ASU's Buck And Larish Looking For Big Finish

June 2, 2005

Jeff Larish was heading south from Tempe McClintock High to Chandler-Gilbert Community College, not north to Arizona State University.

Travis Buck was picking up the phone to commit to Washington when baseball recruiting coordinator Jay Sferra called about a visit to ASU.

Now, the two-time All-Pac-10 teammates are nearing the end of their college days that could have never intersected - yet now are forever linked.

It's as if this was meant to be. That Larish, with a breakout sophomore season in 2003, would mentor freshman Buck then slump enough as a junior to return rather than go pro so they could finish together with one more crack at reaching the College World Series.

The focus is on the NCAA regional beginning Friday at ASU, and not on the amateur draft on Tuesday when Buck is projected to be picked in the first two rounds and Larish soon thereafter.

'I don't care where they're drafted, I care that they're ready to play at the next level and I know they both are,' ASU head coach Pat Murphy said. 'People keep trying to push Larish down the list and talk about his agent (Scott Boras, still technically an adviser until after the season). His agent is terrific in so many ways and when Barry Bonds tells you that you're a great hitter, you're a great hitter.'

The left-handed slugging Bonds, who worked with lefties Larish and Buck and others on March 8, hit 45 home runs in three years at ASU. That's where Larish stands in four years, tied with Bonds for third in ASU career home runs. Twelve of Larish's Pac-10-leading 17 homers came since the batting practice with Bonds.

Baseball America rates first baseman/outfielder Larish as the fifth-best collegiate power hitter in the draft and outfielder/third baseman Buck as the No. 42 overall prospect.

'I dealt with it all last year and I have no expectation,' said Larish, who reportedly turned down a $660,000 offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers last year. He was a 13th-round draft pick after a big production drop-off (.372 batting average to .308, 18 home runs to seven, 95 RBIs to 49) as a junior in part due to a wrist injury that required off-season surgery. 'I've been able to put it on the back burner, and I think Travis will be able to do the same thing. We're just going out and playing ball and looking to have some fun now.'

The fun part comes easier to Buck, who dreamed of playing for ASU while growing up in southeast Washington, than to Larish, who is hard on himself.

Buck saw Larish struggle with the expectations that accompany a high-profile junior who is heavily scouted and not seeing many good fastballs.

'I said that it was never going to happen to me,' said Buck, who started his junior season hitting just .246 over the first 15 games. 'I was acting like I've never played this game before in my life. He (Larish) talked to me a little bit and said trust what got you here and believe in yourself. I took the pressure off myself trying to do it all.'

Over the past 41 games, Buck is hitting .436 for a team-high .388 (third in the Pac-10) overall. He also leads the No. 24-ranked Sun Devils with 23 stolen bases (second in the Pac-10) and has a chance for 100 hits this season and even has a shot to crack .400.

For Buck to call that 'an average year by my standards' would be laughable except that his coach agrees.

'To me, he's had a C-plus year so far,' said Murphy, who said he believes Buck will hit for more power as a pro than his 16 career home runs suggest.

'It shows you how incredibly talented and competitive and athletic this kid is.'

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