“I was the guy who people thought wasn’t that good,” said UC Irvine infielder Eric Deragisch.
Those same people can look at the year the Granite Bay native is putting together and retract their statements.
At Jesuit High School, he was named Player of the Year in 2005 when he batted .296 with 18 RBIs, numbers that didn’t catch any scouts or recruiters’ eyes. The then 6-foot infielder decided not to give up on his dreams, and his deeply competitive nature lead him to Sierra Junior College.
Deragisch was a wirey six-footer at Jesuit, which made scouts doubt his potential. Everyone said that his potential would be evident only if he filled out his body a little more. At Sierra College, he grew three more inches. The tall, lean infielder began getting noticed his sophomore year.
Deragisch credited his experience at junior college for his bettered approach at the plate. In 2007, he was named to the All-Northern California Team with a .353 average, 14 doubles and 34 RBIs. Schools began to take notice of the kid they passed on a couple years before, but Deragisch ran into some bad luck.
Unfortunately, Deragisch was stuck in a slump when recruiters started making visits. He felt the pressure when he learned that UC Berkeley was watching, and he went hitless on the night with a few strikeouts. However, when former Coach Serrano sent an assistant to see Deragisch play, the right-hander made it count.
“I guess it was just meant to be,” Deragisch said.
The Anteater scout happened to attend on the day Deragisch would put together one of his best games of the year, going four for four with two triples and a double. Obviously, he got the offer.
His road took another tumultuous turn when Coach Serrano decided to leave the Irvine coaching job to coach at California State University, Fullerton. Nevertheless, the firm “everything-happens-for-a-reason” believer stuck to the Anteater program.
“For me, it was about the guys. I liked the way they were doing things. I saw we had a lot of guys returning, and that we can do something special,” Deragisch said.
And it was special how Deragisch got into the ’Eater starting lineup. He had never really played third base before coming to UCI. and he was often put at the other three positions in the infield or in the outfield. However, two days before UCI’s opening weekend series at the University of Nevada last season, Deragisch was asked to take balls at third base. He is known for his stellar defensive play and his ability to play almost any position on defense.
“It’s weird. I don’t feel uncomfortable in any position on defense,” Deragisch said.
His first inning at third base was far from comforting. On a cold night in Reno when the field was affected by snow and rain that left the playing field wet, Deragisch was inserted at third base in the bottom of the ninth inning to preserve a 8-7 lead for the Anteaters.
“The situation was terrible, and it was my first time at third. I thought ‘just make the play’ and the ball came to me,” Deragisch recalled. “The next thing I knew, the ball was in my glove, and I tossed the ball to [Ryan] Fisher, who was playing his first game at first base. Because it was wet, the ball made a sinker motion and I got worried. Fisher picked it, and we won the game.”
Deragisch got his shot, and he delivered. He became an integral part of the Anteater defense for the rest of the season. The only problem was his bat. While he wasn’t terrible his first year, batting .299 with16 RBIs, he wasn’t adjusting too well at the level of pitching.
“In junior college, you can get behind in the count 0-2 and still get a good pitch to hit. At this level, you really have to work,” Deragisch said.
Already sound defensively, Deragisch went into the summer on a mission to improve his hitting. He opted to play summer ball up north for the Lodi Grape Sox in the California League so he could live at home and be closer to parents Marla and David. David was the one who introduced Eric to baseball; he was his little league coach and mentor.
“Your dad knows your swing best. Sometimes you keep making mistakes, but you don’t realize it. My dad will tell me what I am doing wrong, and that is all that I needed, to hear it from someone else,” Deragish said, the younger of two sons.
Deragisch’s current .362 average with 37 RBIs didn’t only come from the off-season help from one father, but two. Leon Lee, the father of Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, helped Deragisch with his approach to batting and his swing. With a shorter and more compact swing, Deragisch is better able to drive through balls that he would have otherwise popped up last year. He also took on a workout that focused on strengthening his core. The core is one of the most underrated muscles involved in a swing. A good core can help with both power and balance.
Deragisch even got the opportunity to work out with Derrek Lee and the Washington Nationals Nick Johnson during the holidays in the winter through Leon. He gained some perspective regarding major league talent, adding hope to his professional aspirations.
“You see those guys on TV and expect them to be huge. They aren’t. I mean they are big, but not as much as you’d expect them to be,” Deragisch said.
That’s easy to say for someone who is 6 feet 3 inches and looks like he is going to fill out his lean frame even more.
Physical tools are not the only thing to get one to the majors. A strict work ethic and positive mental approach are necessary. Deragisch has shown since his high school days that he has an insatiable desire to perfect his game. He has made adjustments every year to improve a specific aspect of his game.
He thrives and relishes the unpredictability of the sport of baseball and uses it as more motivation to be the best that he can be, which he hopes is better than anyone else day in and day out.
“I love the challenge the sport brings. I can’t think about anything else,” he said.
Deragisch has overcome the challenges of being doubted; the next step is to overcome the challenges the doubts put on his team. If he keeps making adjustments, he will have a bright future ahead of him.