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Gunderson had it all at go

by: DOUG PENSINGER, OSU closer Kevin Gunderson exults in the final out against Rice late last week in the College World Series. He had even more to celebrate this week, with the College World Series title in hand.

If Kevin Gunderson hadn't been getting outs in the College World Series and then basking in the glow of Oregon State's national championship, he might have been gearing up to try to make the PGA Tour.

A terrific all-around athlete, Gunderson won the Riverside Golf and Country Club junior championship five consecutive years.

'He's a one-handicap,' reports his father, Brent Gunderson. 'My dad once asked me, 'Why are you having him play baseball, and why not golf?' It's harder to take it to the next level in golf … and he has always wanted to play professional baseball.'

Atlanta likes what it sees

Gunderson, the wiry, 5-10 left-hander who grew up in the Parkrose neighborhood and attended Central Catholic High, soon will get his chance. The fifth-round pick of the Atlanta Braves will surely sign a contract and start his career this summer - especially with all that he accomplished at Oregon State, namely the 37 career saves (20 this year) and two CWS appearances.

Since he was a kid, Gunderson has looked up to his uncle, Eric Gunderson, who pitched at Portland State and then made the big leagues with San Francisco, Texas and Seattle. Nephews Kevin and Justin Gunderson used to visit Eric in spring training almost every year and spent time at Texas sitting next to Ivan Rodriguez, Will Clark and others in the dugout.

'He can definitely make the big leagues,' says Eric Gunderson, an assistant coach at Jesuit High. 'What I like about him is his composure and how he handles himself on the mound. You can't teach somebody to be calm under pressure or handle adversity, a lot of guys don't have that makeup.

'Everybody gets on him about his size, but I've seen a lot of 6-4, 6-5 guys who don't have any kind of drive to take them through the minor leagues and to the big leagues,' Eric Gunderson says. 'It definitely helps being a lefty and, it'll take him two or three years, but his strength will increase.'

The 165-pound reliever proved to be plenty durable in the CWS, pitching 5 1/3 innings against North Carolina on Sunday and the final two outs on Monday.

'I was the same way,' Eric Gunderson says. 'His mom (Phoebe) and I laugh about how similarly we throw mechanically and how we approach the game.'

Kevin Gunderson played Parkrose Little League, entering the 'majors' at age 9. He continued throwing fastballs and winning in Parkrose Babe Ruth, and then through four years at Central Catholic and American Legion ball. He didn't throw a curve until age 17, but his father says he can count Kevin's losses in youth ball on one hand.

Kevin Gunderson watched entire baseball games on television, too. 'He was so engrossed,' Brent Gunderson says. 'One thing he always showed was the love of the sport.'

Kevin played basketball and one year of football at Central, but jokingly told friends and family that he wanted Ryan Gunderson (no relation) to be the star quarterback for the Rams.

Cards are out of the question

The Gunderson family was very competitive, headed by his grandfather, Harry. 'Very competitive, to a fault,' Eric Gunderson says. 'We get on him a little bit - it's tough for him to enjoy a round of golf. So, all of us kids take after him, and we're fairly focused.'

After last year's CWS, Kevin Gunderson returned home and promptly got into a debate with his grandfather about his pitching against Baylor. They got out videotape of the game to argue their points, neither one giving in. 'You can't play cards with them,' Phoebe Gunderson says.

'Gundy' and Jonah Nickerson, his best buddy and roommate for three years, used to stage some intense table tennis contests in the OSU locker room. One recruit, after watching Gunderson win 12 games in a row, looked at another player and said: 'If we go here, do we have to play pingpong like that?'

Phoebe Gunderson traveled to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series. She remembers ripping her stress ball in two during the action.

'I wanted it so badly for him,' she says. 'He puts everything into his game with such heart and soul and great determination.'

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