Take one look at freshman Ronnie Shaeffer and the only thing sign that he plays baseball might be some form of UC Irvine baseball gear he is wearing. When he tells you he plays baseball, your first guess at his position will most certainly be pitcher. His 6-foot-2-inch, 195 pound frame suggests it.
You’d be surprised to learn, as most are, that the freshman plays catcher. You will also be surprised to hear that he is a Lil’ Wayne fan, and an even bigger Nelly fan. His favorite baseball player, Brooks Robinson, retired 13 years before he was even born. Where did this guy come from?
Shaeffer is the spearhead of a freshman class that was not highly touted by any college baseball publications, but is becoming one of the best classes in one of the best lineups in the country. Through Sunday, Shaeffer, Jordan Leyland and Tommy Reyes are all batting over .400. The three only recently began getting significant playing time, but they have had to fight hard to win their starting spots. DJ Crumlich has had the most starts out of all the freshmen with 26, and has become a solid fixture in the lineup at third base. However, it has been Shaeffer who has made the most noise.
In 15 games, he is batting .423, with 13 runs and 11 RBIs. He is second on the team, with a .615 slugging percentage and has brought much needed depth at the catching position.
The Garden Grove native played shortstop in his senior year at Pacifica High School, where he was a two-time All-Empire League choice. He was also the team’s Most Valuable Player in 2007 and 2008, as well as the Most Offensive Player in 2006. He batted .420 his senior year with 34 hits, a triple and four home runs. However, because his team and league were not very strong, he did not get much attention during recruiting. He chose UCI over Santa Clara because it was a no-brainer for him. Factors such as the coaching staff, the resumes, the direction and the distance from home were most appealing to him.
So now we know he could play in high school. But how did he make his way into the lineup when arguably the two best hitters on team, Ben Orloff and Francis Larson, also play both of his positions?
“I don’t really know for sure. I was working hard in practice, trying to make it as hard as possible for the coaches not to put me in the lineup,” Shaeffer said. “I was swinging the bat pretty well. One day I looked up at the lineup sheet, and there my name was.”
In his first collegiate game, he contributed without even swinging the bat at the DH position. He laid down a bunt to advance a runner in his first at-bat and then drew a walk in his only other at-bat of the game. The very next day at Anteater Stadium, Shaeffer took his first collegiate swing in the first pitch of the at-bat in the first inning and sent his first collegiate home run over the left field fence. He finished a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. The next game in Seattle, WA., Shaeffer sent another home run over the fence at Husky Stadium and was again a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. Now you know why that slugging percentage is so high.
The right-handed hitter credits Coach Shine for his hot bat. “Coach Shine taught me how to sit back on my pitches more, which allowed me to see the ball for longer,” Shine said.
He is seeing the ball for just the right amount of time as he has planted himself in the middle of the ‘Eater lineup.
Despite his success with the bat, the freshman considers himself more of a defensive player, which makes his choice of favorite players a little less weird. The first, Brooks Robinson, played third base for the Baltimore Orioles from 1955 to 1977. He is considered by many as the greatest defensive third baseman of all time. Shaeffer fell in love with the Hall of Famer when he read a book about him in fifth grade. Among active major leaguers, Shaeffer looked up to Bengie Molina when he was catching for the Angels.
“He was solid behind the plate, and could swing a little bit,” Shaeffer said.
Sounds just like him. He credits the Anteater pitchers as making his job as catcher easy, however.
“Coach Silva calls the pitches; I just have to stick my glove out and these guys just put it right in there,” Shaeffer said.
He loves catching because it makes him a part of every pitch. Shaeffer has only caught three games for the Anteaters this season, but is learning a lot from and competing against the other catchers, particularly Larson.
“[I’m] learning a lot from the older guys. There isn’t too much competition,” Shaeffer said. “On the field you are trying to beat the other guys, but off the field you are all about getting each other better. It’s about the team.”
All Shaeffer considers himself right now is one of the young guys. More importantly, however, he is soaking in this new experience and trying to help the team win. And you know what, he is doing it.
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