April 20, 2004
The life of a Stanford Baseball player can be pretty demanding.
The academic and athletic rigors begin each September with the players diving nose-deep into their challenging classwork, as well as hitting the field for fall individual and team practice sessions. The players get a little time away from both over the Holidays before returning to The Farm in early January to take on two more quarters of classes and begin final preparations for a grueling season that can last nearly five months should the team advance all the way to the College World Series, as it has in each of the last five seasons. Outside of a short mandatory break from baseball for winter finals in March, the players pretty much practice or play games six days a week until the season ends in June.
Then they get a break, right? Wrong.
Usually within a few days after the collegiate season is over, most of the players are putting on a uniform for a summer team in faraway places such as the Cape Cod League, the Alaska Baseball League, or the New England Collegiate Baseball League. A couple of lucky ones every year even get to travel around the country and make international trips with Team USA.
For a player like sophomore Cardinal shortstop Chris Minaker, who did not start a game in his freshman season, there is pressure to make the most of any opportunity to improve.
Minaker began to do just that in the second half of last season when he admitted to realizing that he probably wasn't go to see much time on the field.
'I began to focus my energy on lifting weights and getting stronger,' remembered Minaker. 'If I was going to get better, it was going to be at practice and before the games. As for lifting, I didn't have to worry about being sore for the games, so I figured why not. I took the extra time and went ahead and did it. When I did get my chance to play, the only way I was going to be ready was if I was bigger and stronger than I was.'
Minaker finally got his chance to prove himself against other college players a few days after the CWS when he suited up for Northern Ohio of the Great Lakes Summer League.
The day he arrived, he found his named etched into the starting lineup card for the first time in more than a year.
'Playing every day and getting results reinstilled my confidence after not playing much my freshman year at Stanford,' exclaimed Minaker. 'It was an affirmation that I could prove myself at a collegiate level of play.'
Then Minaker got an unexpected break, in more ways than one. In fact, nine ways might be the most accurate. The first eight came on a late July drag bunt attempt that came off Minaker's bat and blasted into his face, breaking the top of his nose in two places, the bottom of his nose above his lip in five, and his cheekbone in another. The ninth may have been the most important.
'Getting hit gave me an opportunity to focus on different aspects of my life outside of baseball,' explained Minaker. 'I got a chance to just be a kid a little bit and escape the responsibilities of being a student-athlete. It was one of the first experiences I had without class or baseball for a period of time longer than a week or two.'
Not that Minaker just sat around and did nothing. He says that he 'never skipped a beat' in the weight room and was back lifting only two days after the injury, even before he had a surgical procedure that 'realigned the bones in my face'.
'I was really upset after I got hit in the face and channeled that extra energy into lifting,' he recalled.
Minaker didn't do any baseball-related skills training and had no school to worry about for more than a month until he started working out with the bat and ball again on September 1.
'I lifted weights and just kind of got a chance to be a bit of a normal kid,' he said. 'It was very refreshing and valuable to have no worries for a little while. But, at the same time when you don't play, you realize how much you enjoy it.'
Minaker felt a strong feeling of excitement when he stepped back on the field at Sunken Diamond for fall workouts.
'I was pretty excited to at least know that I had a better chance to play this year,' remembered Minaker. 'My attitude was to stay positive, because if I wasn't going to take a positive mind set to the ballpark then negativity would breed failure and when I did get my chance, that would just work to take me down.'
'I wanted to stay positive, and I knew that my chance would come,' he continued. 'It did, and I'm so thankful.'
Minaker's chance finally came when he started his first collegiate game against Texas on February 21, and he responded with a hit and an RBI. In his next start at California eight days later, he came through with a pair of hits. When he hit his first collegiate homer and drove in a career-high four runs as Stanford's starting shortstop to key an 11-4 win over UCLA in the Pac-10 opener on April 2, he seemed to solidify his hold on the starting spot as he has been in the starting lineup ever since.
'I just really wanted to make sure that my mind set was not that it's my first time playing,' emphasized Minaker. 'I have played my whole life and had confidence that I would succeed. I just tried to focus on the mental aspect and knew that the physical side would take over.'
No worries Chris, it has.
by Kyle McRae