NAIA transfer came in as a walk-on and has made an impact
CORVALLIS - Mark Grbavac was persistent. Very persistent, Daniel Robertson says.
The two were teammates for the Green Bay Bullfrogs in the Northwoods Amateur Baseball League last summer, and Grbavac - the former Central Catholic standout now a relief pitcher at Oregon State - was on a recruiting mission for the two-time defending national champions.
'Gurby was on me, 'Why don't you come to Oregon State?' ' recalls Robertson, then bound for his senior season at NAIA Concordia University in Irvine, Calif. 'I kept telling him, 'Man, I can't do that. I only have one year left. I have a spot (at Concordia).' But he razzed me every day about it.'
Truth be told, Grbavac says, he didn't exactly have to twist Robertson's arm.
'Daniel was at a good NAIA school, but he talked about it being his last year in college, and he wanted a chance to prove himself at the top level,' Grbavac says. 'I thought he was a great player, a guy who can run and hit and play defense. So I called (assistant coach Marty) Lees to see if there was an opportunity there.'
One day, near the end of the season - while Robertson was on his way to league co-Most Valuable Player honors - he placed a call to Lees, 'and the ball kept rolling from there.'
Robertson gave up his scholarship at Concordia to walk on at Oregon State, and today - with him entrenched as the Beavers' everyday right fielder - the decision appears a wise one. But it wasn't easy.
Out of high school in La Puente, Calif., Robertson turned down an offer from Division I San Diego to sign with Concordia, primarily for the chance to earn immediate playing time. He hit .329 as a freshman, .404 as a sophomore - the Eagles finished sixth in the NAIA World Series - and .414 as a junior.
But Concordia coach Tony Barbone - a friend of OSU coach Pat Casey - retired after last season, which made the switch 'a little easier,' Robertson says.
Casey had no scholarship money left, but what was there to gamble on a kid willing to walk on - even one who stands 5-7 1/2 on a good day?
So Robertson hustled to take care of academic transfer paperwork, packed his belongings into his car and, on Sept. 7, drove 14 hours to Corvallis, arriving two days ahead of Casey's first team meeting.
Understandably, Robertson experienced some mixed emotions about leaving the security of Concordia for the great unknown.
'Of course, you second-guess yourself at times,' he says. 'You think about what you're leaving behind rather than what you're going to. I was like, 'What did I get myself into?' '
Oregon State had several returning corner outfielders, including John Wallace, Braden Wells and Kao Kahalehoe, so it wasn't like a spot was open for Robertson during fall ball.
'I felt I had to make my presence felt,' he says. 'The biggest thing was just getting in with the team, and my teammates accepted me very well. It was like I had been playing here for a while already.'
Robertson made an immediate impression on the veterans, who saw a player with speed, hustle and talent.
'I didn't know anything about him,' junior designated hitter Jason Ogata says. 'It was like, 'A senior transferring in? No way.' But I'm pretty good friends with Grbavac, and he told me (Robertson) was the real deal. Then I saw him, and it was, 'Are you serious, Mark? Look at this guy. He's tiny.'
'But I saw (Robertson) swing the bat and run and play in the intrasquad scrimmages, and he was all over the place. I was thinking, 'Man, this guy can play.' '
Despite going 2 for 13 at the plate as Oregon State took two of three games from Washington last weekend, Robertson was batting .355 entering Monday's home date with Portland. He was leading the Beavers in stolen bases (six) and walks (14) and ranked second in runs scored (21) and on-base percentage (.479).
Casey even has stuck Robertson into the No. 4 slot in the order at times, making him probably the smallest cleanup hitter in D-I baseball.
Robertson also has proved a dependable and, at times, a spectacular outfielder, twice gunning down runners at home plate on key plays in recent games.
'I feel like I have a good glove, and I pride myself on my defense,' he says. 'I couldn't tell you where my arm strength comes from, but I played shortstop until my junior year in high school. It's been one of the biggest aspects of the game at Oregon State. The last couple of years, the fielding percentage has been astounding. It's one of the reasons I've fit in so well here.'
Next: Oregon State, 2-1 in Pac-10 play and 13-8 going into Monday's UP game, has its first conference road series beginning Friday against a potent California team. The Bears (18-5-1) are ranked seventh nationally this week after sweeping a three-game series with then-No. 5 Long Beach State.
Cal, also 2-1 in the Pac-10 after opening at Washington State, is hitting .322 as a team but rolls with great pitching. Among the top arms are No. 1 starter Tyson Ross, a junior right-hander who pitched for Team USA last summer and is 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA; freshman right-hander Kevin Miller (3-0), who has allowed only 16 hits and no earned runs in 30 innings, and sophomore right-hander Daniel Wolford (2-0, 0.73, with 33 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings).
The Bears have outstanding power, led by junior first baseman David Cooper (.398, 11 homers, 29 RBIs) and senior second baseman Josh Satin (.446, 9 homers, 30 RBIs).
• Oregon State coach Pat Casey probably will use senior right-hander Mike Stutes (2-3, 4.94) on Friday, freshman right-hander James Nygren (0-0, 1.04) on Saturday and sophomore right-hander Jorge Reyes (1-1, 8.88) on Sunday.
All three pitched well last week against Washington. Stutes allowed six hits and no earned runs with three walks and six strikeouts in an 8-1 victory; Nygren worked eight innings, yielding four hits and no earned runs with two walks and six strikeouts in a 2-1 win, and Reyes gave up three hits and no earned runs with four walks and seven strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings of a 6-4 loss.
'Georgie's stuff was plenty good,' Casey says. 'He walked too many guys, but his stuff was great - by far the best it's been all year.'
'It's all about confidence,' Washington coach Ken Knudsen says about Reyes, the 2007 College World Series MVP. 'Right now, for some reason, it's just not there. He had so much success last year, and a lot of people know who he is. There's probably that pressure. His stuff's all there. I'm sure he feels a little better after (Sunday's performance). He's an awfully good pitcher.'
- Kerry Eggers