Bridging The Eras

Sofia Panuelos/New University

Sean Madigan’s day-old stubble and tattered ballplayer sunglasses can’t quite hide his baby face and happy grin. Usually seen with a dirty uniform and a hat bill that’s always being tilted upwards, UC Irvine’s boyish right fielder is actually the grandpa of the program at the ripe age of 22.

As far as collegiate baseball goes, Madigan has just about seen it all. As a freshman, Madigan was part of the first UCI baseball team to make it to the College World Series, hitting .333 while the underdog ’Eaters swept the entire nation off their feet. His sophomore year, UCI came within six outs of returning to Omaha by taking down Louisiana State University at historic Alex Box Stadium. Other hostile destinations have included Wichita St, Nebraska and Texas. The Anteaters have made the playoffs every year that Madigan has been in Irvine.

“[Madigan] has been a critically important player for us,” Manager Mike Gillespie said. “He’s clearly the most veteran guy who’s been through it all. He was a good player for us last year, but he’s a better player this year. He’s a more confident player, and he’s a leader.”

This year, Madigan has taken over the No. 2 spot in the lineup, getting on base at a high clip in front of big hitters Brian Hernandez and Drew Hillman. Madigan is hitting .320 with 22 RBIs, and also has 29 walks and eight stolen bases on the season, both team highs. In the field, Madigan lacks the explosive burst of a centerfielder but possesses a strong arm, making right field a natural fit.

“As a hitter I know I can’t play for power, I can’t hit the ball beyond the outfielder’s heads, so I have to try to play in front of them or play through them,” Madigan said about his mentality at the plate. “I have a good eye for the zone so I rarely chase pitches. I see a lot of pitches and I don’t mind hitting with two strikes.”

While the team has cruised along in the national ranks every year, Madigan suffered a setback his junior year. Playing right field six games into the 2009 campaign, Madigan was running toward a ball in right center when he was called off by the center fielder. He planted and cut in an awkward manner, and heard a pop. Madigan was forced to miss the rest of the 2009 season with a torn ACL and partially torn medial and lateral meniscus.

“It’s one of those things that is rarely seen in baseball, just bad luck,” Madigan said. “I can’t even describe what happened really, it all happened so fast. It was my first surgery, first real injury. I knew I was going to come back and play, it was more how was I going to be when I came back.”

Luckily for UCI, Madigan took a medical redshirt and went about his rehab with rigor, even returning early. After taking some time to get his swing back, Madigan is back at his best this year. In the process, he has learned not to be rattled about the little things.

“It’s a game of adjustments,” Madigan said. “I’ve grown a lot as a person. When you get out, you have to know that the game is a game of failure. You’ve got to deal with failing 70 percent of the time. You can’t get angry, you can’t get frustrated, because once that happens, you’re just digging yourself into a deeper hole.”

As a freshman, Madigan looked up to UCI’s then center fielder and now Arizona Diamondbacks farmhand Ollie Linton. Now, he is the older guy that a young Anteaters squad can look up to.

“You’re blessed when you have a guy who is among your best players who is also among your best workers,” Gillespie said. “[Madigan] goes about it right. He’s never lazy, never late. His effort to do it right all the time … you’d like to think that young guys notice that and feed off of that.

Sitting at 26-10, 8-4 in the Big West, Madigan likes the team’s chances to make another run. He would love nothing more than ending his career with another trip to college baseball’s promised land.

“Every team is different, this team is different than last year,” Madigan said, refusing to directly compare his different UCI teams. “[But] I think that if we continue playing the way we can play, we have a really good shot this year. It’d be a really cool thing for me to start my college career in Omaha and then end it there.”

Madigan, from nearby Yorba Linda, credits his parents, Mike and Joan, for their undying support. His dad was the one who initially got him into baseball and was his coach all the way until high school.

“Anytime I go for help I can go to my dad and my mom too, because she knows just as much about sports,” Madigan said. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

As for his coaches, Madigan is the last Anteater recruited by the old coaching staff, current Cal State Fullerton Head Coach Dave Serrano. He represents the last link to the era of old. At the same time, he is very high on current coach Mike Gillespie as well as hitting coach Pat Shine. Now, Madigan hopes to live out the dream of playing professionally.

“The way these two coaches have prepared me, I feel like I’m ready for the next level, if that opportunity comes, and I know it may not,” Madigan said humbly.

As a UCI graduate, Madigan also has other options. He is currently pursing a master’s in criminology, law and society. But before graduating, Grandpa Madigan will enjoy the final leg of his storied Anteater career.

“As a freshman I thought to myself, this is my school, this could be my home,” Madigan said. “Turns out I made a good choice.”