When freshman second baseman Alden Carrithers steps into the batter’s box to lead off for UCSB baseball, he probably doesn’t leave opponents shaking in their boots. Compared to many of the Big West Conference’s best players, at 5’6″ and 155 pounds, Carrithers sometimes looks more like a batboy than a Division I starter.
Yet the Portland, Ore. native has found himself in the Gauchos’ starting lineup after an injury to sophomore shortstop Chris Valaika left a hole in the infield. With just six appearances under his belt, Carrithers got the call to make his first collegiate start March 11.
“He got picked on at first because he’s the little rookie from Oregon, but once he got on the field and showed what he could do, it stopped,” junior first baseman Bill Rowe said.
Carrithers was not a name anyone expected to be seeing in the regular lineup when he came to UCSB without a guaranteed roster spot last year. Since the Gaucho coaching staff does most of its recruiting in state, Head Coach Bob Brontsema had only seen Carrithers play once when he arrived at tryouts last fall.
“I thought he was a good player, but we weren’t aggressive going after him,” Brontsema said. “He really wanted to go here, so we invited him to try out and make the team.”
After spending last year as a redshirt because no roster spots were available, Carrithers played in a wood bat summer league with Rowe to continue his transition into college baseball.
“I played with him over summer in a wood bat league,” Rowe said. “I didn’t get to see him play last year and in his first at-bat, he hit a home run with a wood bat, so I knew what he could do from there.”
In Rowe, a fellow Oregon native from Ashland, Carrithers has found a friend and mentor in the infield.
“I definitely felt a responsibility [to help Carrithers]. What we do reflects all of Oregon,” Rowe said. “Everyone on the team makes fun of us all the time, so [he] and I face a certain ridicule that no one else has to.”
During fall and winter practices and intrasquad games, Carrithers came into his own. Both his teammates and the coaching staff were impressed.
“His play in the fall of this year was pretty unbelievable. He showed he was ready to play at this level,” senior shortstop Chris Malec said. “[The problem] was just trying to find a spot for him. He did everything he was asked to do and showed he had the confidence to play.” With the 2005 season approaching this winter, Brontsema was looking to find a place for Carrithers to get some at-bats. The designated hitter and left field spots were both options, but with the injury to Valaika, Carrithers got a chance to showcase his abilities after warming the bench for six weeks.
“I thought the transition went well. We’d all been in game shape with all the practices and intrasquads,” Carrithers said. “It took a few games to get used to it. After I had a few successes though, it settled down.”
Carrithers’ confidence has helped him to a .348 average, scoring 10 runs and driving in six in just 46 at-bats this season. He has also become an asset in the batter’s box as a quick leadoff hitter. His teammates have nicknamed him “pimpin'” for his on-field swagger and self-assurance.
“We’re not a very fast team; he brings speed to the top of the lineup, which we desperately need,” Brontsema said. “He also brings a very good bat; he’s a very confident freshman and player. He’s a very solid player in terms of offensive skills and defensive range.”
After seeing his first Big West action in last weekend’s series against Pacific, Carrithers has been impressed with the competition in the conference.
“The Big West Conference is one of the better conferences in the country,” Carrithers said. “The players are quite a bit different [from high school] and they are very good.”
“Pimpin'” and the rest of the Gaucho squad are looking to get back on the winning track today at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium against Westmont. Santa Barbara has lost three of its last four games.
Sophomore starter Brian Tracy and senior reliever Nate Holguin are expected to see most of the pitching time against the Warriors. The last time the two teams met, the Gauchos posted a 14-2 victory. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. today.