The fourth inning is just one of at least nine in any given baseball game, just a small part of a bigger picture, one chance to score or prevent runs among many other chances. Gaucho junior catcher Matt Kalafatis didn’t see it that way May 8 against Cal State Northridge, and he let the Matadors know it both on offense and on defense.
Kalafatis gunned a would-be base thief out by several steps in the top of the fourth and then laced a one-out single in the bottom half. Starting from second base with two outs, Kalafatis rounded third on a single to right and attempted to score, but the right fielder’s throw beat him to the plate. He dove headfirst around the catcher and brushed the plate with his left hand, deftly avoiding the tag and scoring the run.
“That’s the kind of player Matt Kalafatis is,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “He’s intelligent, he’s scrappy and he does all of the little intangible things that make you win.”
It was just another inning in Kalafatis’ career, but it was another chance for him to weave his magic and contribute to his team in ways that don’t show up as prominently as home runs do in the box score. The quiet receiver from San Ramon, Calif., does it day in and day out, and has since before he was recruited by Head Coach Rob Willson to play at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill.
“He verbally committed to the University of San Francisco to be a recruited walk-on, and I spent hours trying to convince him not to do that,” Willson, currently the head coach at Sierra College in Rocklin, said. “The bottom line is that he was a JC All-American last year and a first team all-leaguer two times, and now he’s in a much better place at UCSB.”
Kalafatis hit .381 with 39 runs scored and 33 RBIs at DVC in 2002 before following Willson to Sierra last season, where he batted .310 and drove in 41 runs. He committed to Santa Barbara in June of 2003 after Gaucho catcher Chad Ziemendorf agreed to a professional contract with the Cincinnati Reds organization.
“I was happy when I heard that he got in to Santa Barbara. I knew that he wanted to go there,” Willson said, noting that Kalafatis’ brother had also attended and graduated from UCSB. “That’s where he wanted to play, and I really wanted to make it happen for him.”
Kalafatis has been the everyday catcher for most of the season, throwing out 43.5 percent of base-stealers and hitting .287 with 18 runs scored and 18 RBIs from the bottom half of the lineup. Senior Taylor Vogt can assume the role of the designated hitter with Kalafatis behind the dish, and pitchers can let loose a little more because of Kalafatis’ excellent defense.
“I’m really confident when he’s back there,” junior hurler Alex McRobbie said. “I can throw two-strike curve balls in the dirt with a man on third base and know that he’ll block them.”
Kalafatis is also a vocal leader on the bench, a crucial characteristic in the midst of the Gauchos’ eight-game winning streak that has revolved as much around confidence and spirit as it has around on-field accomplishment.
“He’s one of the loudest guys in the dugout,” McRobbie said. “When he gets hit by a pitch, he sprints down to first base, and that’s a sign of enthusiasm that pumps all the guys up.”
This season has been a special one for UCSB, and Kalafatis has no doubt contributed to the consistency on this team that has been lacking in recent years.
“As a catcher, you can’t take your offense with you on defense, and Matt can go 0-for-19 and still want to catch and help out on D,” Willson said. “He’s mentally consistent, that’s what he is, mentally tough. He’s the best kid I’ve ever coached.”