2011 Cal baseball was the single most incredible team I have ever followed as a Cal fan in any sport. It was a national story that captured the attention of Cal fans just months after the athletic department captured the attention of Cal fans for all the wrong reasons. The run to Omaha would have been a thrilling, underdog story without the program-on-the-brink background. The challenge for the 2012 Bears is to follow that unlikely performance while dealing with the aftermath of near-elimination
Unfortunately, that near-elimination will likely impact the Bears over the next few years. With the program slated to end, the coaching staff was probably more focused on finding homes for current players than recruiting new players for a program that wasn’t going to exist. Cal lost 10 players from last year’s roster to graduation, transfer, or the pros. That David Esquer managed to put together a class of seven freshmen, one JC transfer and one former footballer might be a small miracle, though a new five year contract and a World Series appearance hopefully helped convince a few recruits.
I have no idea what kind of pedigree Cal’s new recruits have. The official website didn’t discuss the freshmen class until an article announcing fall practice came out, presumably because the recruiting class had to be cobbled together at the last minute, much of it after letters of intent could be sent in.
I will say this: To each of the nine players who committed to become Bears, thank you. Committing to a program that went through so much turmoil and uncertainty probably wasn’t the easiest decision to make. But your role in keeping the program not just alive, but competitive in arguably the toughest conference in the country is something Cal fans won’t take for granted.
And yet, even if the freshmen recruits are unable to contribute immediately, Cal is still in pretty good shape, all things considered. Most teams that are almost cut lose many players to transfers. Most teams that get to Omaha lose lots of players to graduation or the draft. Cal ‘only’ lost six major contributors from last year’s team, a shockingly low number considering everything that happened last year. That number is bit lower than anticipated in part because Chadd Krist and Matt Flemer both decided to return for their senior seasons despite opportunities to sign pro contracts.
Considering a hastily-assembled recruiting class but some exciting returning talent, what exactly should expectations be for the 2012 season? Only the elite of the elite expect to end the season in Omaha. But Cal starts the season on the fringe of the top 25, with rankings of 22, 22 and 26 in some of the various major polls. Five Pac-12 teams (Stanford, Arizona, Arizona St., UCLA and Oregon St.) have received consensus top 25 rankings as well. That suggests that the Bears have the talent to compete atop a very tough, deep conference, though depth could be a concern. But don’t tell that to Matt Flemer:
We know the type of guys we have coming back on offense and the runs that they're going to produce for us. So we have to step up as a staff this season, and I have the utmost faith in the guys we have that we're going to do that. I feel like if we can do the simple things, a conference title is a real possibility for our team. And with that goal comes the desire to win a national title.
This team has gotten used to proving doubters wrong – why should 2012 be any different?
Coming soon: Previews of the lineup and the pitching staff.