Seizing The Opportunity
This feature originally appeared in the 2021 Spring edition of the Cal Sports Quarterly. The Cal Athletics flagship magazine features long-form sports journalism at its finest and provides in-depth coverage of the scholar-athlete experience in Berkeley. Printed copies are mailed four times a year to Bear Backers who give annually at the Bear Club level (currently $600 or more). For more information on how you can receive a printed version of the Cal Sports Quarterly at home, send an email to CalAthleticsFund@berkeley.edu or call (510) 642-2427.
Darren Baker remembers the moment Quentin Selma arrived.
Cal trailed Oregon in the ninth inning of a late-April series opener in 2019 when Selma, then a sophomore, deposited a game-tying home run over the right-field wall at Evans Diamond. His swing set the stage for Korey Lee's walk-off shot two at-bats later, which lifted the Golden Bears to an 8-7 win, one of their most dramatic victories in a season that culminated with an NCAA regional appearance.
"Quentin has always been that guy, but that swing, in that game, really gave him a stamp," said Baker, a four-year teammate of Selma's at Cal.
In the two years since, Selma's trajectory has only increased. An All-Pac-12 selection at third base as a sophomore in 2019, Selma has developed into one of the conference's most respected left-handed bats, batting above .300 until the midway point of his senior season while ranking toward the top of the conference in home runs (8) and RBI (32) in 2021.
Selma does not have to worry about whether his name is on the lineup card these days; the Clovis, California, native is a mainstay in the Bears' lineup while anchoring the hot corner. But that was not always the case. Like many, Selma fought through adversity to get to where he is now.
"If there's one big-picture trait I have developed during my time at Cal, it's perseverance," Selma said. "It's not just fighting for a spot in the lineup; it's pushing yourself through a weights session immediately following a tough practice, or balancing schoolwork while you're on a road trip. Just like everyone in their own ways, I'm continuing to work through adversity every day."
Selma's first season in the Blue & Gold in 2018 was a struggle, as he batted just .103 with three hits in 29 at-bats across 17 games. Despite earning eight starts in his limited playing time, Selma was unable to capitalize on the opportunities at that point in his career.
"We always knew Q's talent was there, but it's safe to say he probably did not get the production he was looking for as a freshman," said Cal head coach Mike Neu, who was in his first season at the program's helm in 2018. "Just like so many other successful college ballplayers, he grinded through it, found a rhythm and an approach that worked best for him, and he's taken off from there."
After 15-20 games into Selma's sophomore season, the rhythm clicked. In between the 10 home runs he hit that spring, Selma peppered all corners of the field with hits on the way to a .311 season batting average. His commitment to finding a consistent approach paid off, both individually with a spot on the All-Pac-12 First Team, and for the team, which earned its first postseason appearance since 2015.
"His bat is legit; he's just an all-around hitter," Baker said. "He'll drive a ball off the scoreboard in one at bat and drop a bunt down in the next if he catches the opposing third baseman snoozing. His patience at the plate is always impressive. He gets the pitch he wants."
Building off of his sophomore successes, Selma looked primed for a productive junior year in 2020 that would likely vault him into the Major League Baseball Draft later that summer. With Cal stars and 2019 MLB Draft first-round selections Andrew Vaughn and Korey Lee gone, Selma embraced his role, leading the Bears in batting average, doubles, runs batted in and on-base percentage through 16 games.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Not only was the remainder of Selma's pivotal junior season canceled, but the MLB Draft was cut from 40 to five rounds as a result of cost-saving decisions made by MLB owners. Selma, ranked as the No. 81 hitter in the nation by D1Baseball, went undrafted.
"Of course, I had my sights on potentially going pro after my junior year," Selma reflected. "We all arrive at Cal with the No. 1 goal being team success – winning games and bringing titles to Berkeley – but like any other guy, an individual goal of mine was to hopefully be drafted after three college seasons."
After the draft concluded, a few pro teams contacted Selma about his interest in signing a non-drafted free agent contract. Selma declined, recognizing that despite the disappointment of going undrafted, he had the opportunity to complete his American studies degree and compete for the Bears for a fourth season.
"When (the draft process) was finished, I was thankful," Selma said. "I was fortunate to have a spot at Cal and now have the chance to complete my degree in four years. Getting that degree is one of my biggest goals."
With both a shortened 2020 season and draft in the rearview, Selma and his teammates got to work for the 2021 season. Though Cal could not conduct a normal fall season, Selma and his senior roommates John Lagattuta, Connor Mack, Carson Olson and Hance Smith, who remained in Berkeley, found ways to get in their reps.
The offseason resembled much more of a pro offseason, with each player having to hold themselves accountable while getting the work in ahead of the 2021 season. That time apart, followed by the team's reunion in early January, has led to a tight bond this spring.
"We're a lot tighter as a collective unit this year," Selma said. "Everyone is on the same page and pulling in the right direction. Guys show up to the field early, and stay late. Everyone is being receptive to feedback from our coaching staff and from one another in order to be the best player they can be. When that's the mindset of your whole team and not just a few guys, you really enjoy being around one another."
On March 27 at Utah, Selma kickstarted an eventual series-clinching win with a solo home run in the top of the second inning. As he returned to the Cal dugout, the senior leader was greeted by a mob of teammates who were anxious to give a playful tug on his lumberjack-like beard – a fun, reoccurring celebration at this stage of Selma's career. The celebration was repeated May 4 when Selma's go-ahead grand slam fueled an 11-run fifth inning comeback in Cal's 18-10 win over San Jose State.
"A lot of our team's identity revolves around Quentin," Neu said. "He carries himself with such a calm presence and the guys look up to him. When he's stepping up and showing toughness every day, that rubs off on our whole team."
The day might come this summer for Selma's name to appear on the MLB Draft board. But for now, with the thick of his senior season ahead of him, the hard work and fun continues on the path to a potential Pac-12 title in Berkeley.
"I think he's having fun, we're all having fun," Baker said. "Everyone is just enjoying each day and appreciative of playing again. Knock on wood, Q will get a shot at pro baseball this summer. But for now, I know he's enjoying everything college baseball has to offer."