Outside of the monotonous drone of lecture halls, away from the mottled shag carpet of drunken I.V.-leaguer, in the well-manicured fields of Caesar Uyesaka Stadium looms a rising star.
He is a statuesque 6’1″, 190-pound baseball prodigy. He is known for his blazing speed, his canon of an arm, and a mighty swing that is responsible for launching more satellites than the Russian space program. He is known for his tractor-beam-like defensive skills with the glove. He is known as the best player on the UCSB baseball team.
His name is Ryan Spilborghs.
On a team too young to know how good it really is, the junior right fielder is old enough to know what it takes to be successful.
“He produces for us,” junior first baseman Josh McCanne said. “He’s a guy we can definitely count on for a big hit or a big defensive play. He does great things for us. He works hard and leads by example.”
UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema agrees that Spilborghs is an exemplary player, hailing the All-American outfielder as the unquestioned leader for the Gauchos.
“This year he’s been a man among boys,” Brontsema said. “He’s been our best player throughout the season. He’s a five-tool player. He can run, throw, hit for average, hit for power, and play great defense.”
Nevermind that Spilborghs leads the team in virtually every meaningful offensive category. Forget about the numerous accolades, the litany of school records he has shattered, and the drooling Major League scouts who anxiously anticipate his graduation. Don’t think twice about how Spilborghs, a sociology major, has taken 21 units each of the last two quarters – a tremendous feat for someone who isn’t participating in a grueling intercollegiate sport.
Accomplishments don’t carry the same luster for Ryan Spilborghs as they do for most players. Spilborghs demands the most from himself and prefers to go on to the next challenge, rather than bask in past glory. Spilborghs modestly skirts around any praise, deferring credit to the team. If you want to hear Spilborghs talk about himself, you practically have to wring it out of him.
When asked about his career at Santa Barbara High School, the two-time county MVP proved to be as self-aggrandizing as a monk.
“I sucked,” Spilborghs said.
But that’s what makes him who he is. His humility makes him focus on his weaknesses and concentrate on finding any way of improving.
“My whole freshman year, I was not good,” Spilborghs said. “I was very raw.”
Spilborghs redshirted his first year, giving him the chance to hone his skills in the game he loved.
“Not being able to play puts everything into perspective,” Spilborghs said. “It was the best experience I could have had.”
Spilborghs worked arduously with Brontsema and his teammates to become the best player he could be.
“He used his redshirt year better than any kid I’ve ever seen,” Brontsema said.
The hard work paid off, and Spilborghs carved a niche for himself at UCSB by improving his defense. He earned a starting job in the outfield the following year.
However, the success was short-lived. 18 games into the season, Spilborghs broke a bone in his hand which sidelined him for the rest of the season.
“Even then, I think I grew into a better baseball player,” Spilborghs said. “Sitting on the bench, watching others only made me more determined for the next year.”
After rigorous rehabilitation, Spilborghs brought back the fury the following season. Spilborghs recorded a banner year in which he garnered All-American honors by setting a school record 35-game hitting streak and hitting .375.
This year, Spilborghs has continued his offensive tear. He is among the top of the offensive leaders in the Big West in every major category, including home runs (10), RBIs (45), and batting average (.380). With such prodigious numbers, Brontsema says it’s not a matter of if he’ll get drafted, it’s what round.
But Spilborghs is hardly concerned with the draft. All he cares about is his team and the game he studies.
“Every year I think I’ve grown,” Spilborghs said. “I’ve grown as a person from failure. Success comes from realizing you’re going to fail and learning to deal with it.”