Stanford Stays Cool, Passes Gut CheckColumns
CORVALLIS, Ore. — After it was over, Stanford talked a lot about growth, and about the process being more important than the result. That kind of thinking can pay major benefits in the long run for a college baseball team. But it sure is rewarding when a positive process leads directly to an immediate payoff.
First-year Stanford coach David Esquer just wanted to see his team fight. The Cardinal had been soundly beaten Friday night and walloped Saturday in its big Pac-12 showdown series at Oregon State, and it looked just about down and out after falling behind 6-1 through four innings Sunday. This was unfamiliar territory for a Stanford team that hadn’t lost back-to-back games all spring during its dominant 38-6 campaign. But Esquer didn’t resort to desperate motivational antics. When a couple of close calls went against the Cardinal in key spots, he didn’t sprint out of the dugout with arms flailing and get himself ejected to try to fire up his players; he took a leisurely stroll and chatted with the umpires calmly and quietly, presumably inviting them to postgame tea and crumpets. He didn’t raise his voice to his players; he didn’t even confront them with a direct challenge.
“We’re not built that way,” he said. “To be honest, we had to find ourselves, and it was about being relaxed in the moment. I think they understood the game and how big it was, and I think it just takes a while to be yourself in these big moments. So really it was about not creating any drama, and taking the approach of, ‘Hey, regardless of what happens today, we’ve just got to grow up this weekend.’ … I think other than Nico Hoerner, everybody that’s on the field wasn’t on the field a year ago, and we’re playing against a team that had maybe the best season in college baseball history (last year), and almost everybody was back on the field. So we had quite a challenge.”
Esquer is the epitome of the laidback Californian, and his equanimity has been just what this young team needed this year. He has steered this ship with a steady hand, and his players have responded to his style at every turn. They sure responded on Sunday, chipping away at that five-run deficit steadily, and tying the game on a dramatic pinch-hit homer by Nick Oar in the ninth, then winning it 9-6 on Will Matthiesen’s three-run double in the 10th.