With no on-campus stadium or baseball tradition to boast about and with little more to promise than immediate playing time, lots of playing time, and and chance to be part of history, Cal State Bakersfield baseball coach Bill Kernen still got most of who he set out to get on the recruiting trail.
Consequently, when CSUB's first-ever baseball season begins in earnest in January 2009, two current high school players ranked in the top 375 in the nation, plus four others on various preseason All-America lists will likely be wearing Roadrunner uniforms.
They represent a half-dozen of the 14 high school student athletes who have signed early national letters of intent to play baseball at CSUB.
"I was very encouraged by the response that I got," said Kernen, former head coach at Cal State Northridge and an assistant at Cal State Fullerton prior to being hired as CSUB's first ever baseball coach. "I admire these players for their courage and vision and their families' to be able to entrust some of their future to us, to be able to envision what's going to happen and to want to be a part of it. It takes a special person to do that."
A few key players making that commitment are 6-foot-6 pitcher/first baseman Brandon Van Dam out of Quartz Hill, and catcher Jeremy Rodriguez out of Crespi.
Van Dam is ranked by Perfectgame.com as the 30th best player in California and is ranked 186th best in the nation. Rodriguez is regarded as the 34th best catcher in America and 363rd best player overall. Both were All-CIF selections in 2007 and like the other 12 who signed with CSUB will finish up their senior years this spring.
Another All-CIF first-teamer coming to CSUB is Robbie Mouselli, a right-handed pitcher/third baseman out of Valencia. Mouselli, the Foothill League MVP, hit .506 in 2007.
Van Dam's teammate Mick Gaston, another big two-way player and another 2007 Under Armour Preseason All-American who can hit with power, also signed. Jonathon Montoya (LHP, Chino Hills), Stuart Smith (1B/OF, Buena) and Matt Akiyama (SS/2B, Bishop Montgomery) are other preseason All-Americans signing letters of intent with CSUB.
Jacob Valenzuela (RHP/SS, Garces) and Korie Walkley (RHP/INF, Centennial) will stay in town and play for CSUB.
"This wasn't something where we went out to find a second-line guy who couldn't go anywhere," Kernen said. "We competed for top level high school players."
Now it's on to competing for more top level high school talent, and experienced players -- Division I transfers and junior college players. The next signing period is in April.
"There needs to be some experience in here, particularly on the mound," Kernen said.
It's possible a few of Kernen's recruits could sign contracts to play with Major League clubs, but he doesn't see any of them being drafted high enough to where the money would be just too much to turn down.
Kernen will cap his roster at 23 or 24 players, the smallest, he said in Division I, and not because of budget constraints or gender equity reasons.
"I want everybody to travel, I want no redshirts and I want everybody to play a lot," he said. "I think you get a much tighter knit, close family when everyone is completely involved and not sitting on the bench all the time."
With 20 players on his roster, Kernen guided Cal State Northridge to a No. 10 national ranking in 1991.
The small roster explains in part why Kernen went after and signed so many multi-position players -- 9 of the 14. He said he regards Van Dam, Mouselli, Gaston and Martin Medina (RHP/C/3B, St. Bonaventure) as certain "legitimate" two-way players, meaning they will pitch and play a position when not pitching. Medina, Kernen said, can and has played every position.
Montoya, who Kernen regards as his top left-hander, Ricky Plascencia (7-2, 2.02 ERA Fontana-AB Miller), Valenzuela (All-SEYL) and Walkley (6-0, All-SWYL) are primarily pitchers.
The possibility of playing in the Big West Conference was attractive to recruits, Kernen said, but most were not discouraged by CSUB's current independent status. And get this, many of them regarded playing a season or two at Sam Lynn Ball Park while an on-campus stadium gets built as . . . .a positive.
"They thought the place had character and thought it might be cool to play there," he said.
"But No. 1 on the list was player development -- the opportunity to play as freshman. Because of the structure and size of our roster the development for them was superior to going somewhere else where they might be waiting for someone to leave before getting a chance to play.
"No. 2 was being part of something new, building something new."