It takes a special personality to walk the same path as Mike Mussina and Mark Appel.
Just for starters you have to be a strong enough student to gain admission to Stanford University. Then comes the physical ability to pitch at an insanely high level, and finally there is the opportunity. That window may be the tiniest to slip through.
One-time hockey star wannabe Cal Quantrill pulled off that trifecta this spring.
Quantrill became the Cardinal’s first freshman to start a season opener on the mound since Mussina did so in 1988. It also marked him out as the probable successor to Appel – twice a first-round draft pick in his time at Stanford – as the next ace of the staff.
“I was aware of the situation, but I think to think that you’re going to follow up those two guys … You have to do your own thing, be your own person,” Quantrill said a day after out pitching 2013 Freshman All-American Andrew Moore. “I’m just trying to be myself. Hopefully I can have the same results as them.”
Then again, this has been a retooling season for Stanford. The weekend starting rotation are all freshmen. Brett Hanewich and Chris Viall are starting on Fridays and Sundays, respectively.
“Any of us are capable of starting on Fridays,” Quantrill said. “It’s great the way it’s transitioned itself. I’ll pitch on Sunday, Tuesday, whenever they need me to.”
Despite the youth on the mound, the Cardinal are solidly in the top 30 in RPI even after being swept at Oregon State last weekend to fall to 3-6 in the Pac-12 Conference. Stanford has hovered around the .500 mark overall and, with a few series wins, could still reach the postseason thanks to its strong RPI.
The postseason, though, is still far down the road. Quantrill and his fellow freshmen are working through the Pac-12 for the first time, following the lead of the upperclassmen.
It’s still an adjustment.
“The biggest transition has been staying engaged in the game when you’re not playing every day,” said Quantrill, who spent three years with Canada’s 18-under national team. “It’s big when your pitchers are there and engaged on the bench. It’s probably the biggest thing for me … there’s always something to learn.”
Being on the national team stage helped prepare Quantrill for Pac-12 environments. He has played in front of larger crowds than the 2,758 that lurked in a damp Goss Stadium, so fans aren’t intimidating. How the game is played, that’s a different beast.
“I pitched in more situations than most kids have, but college baseball is still a beast of it’s own. The game is different, there’s a lot of small ball, but as far as the game itself, I have more experience than a lot of guys my age,” he said.
He also has a valuable resource in his father.
Paul Quantrill pitched for 13 years in the Major Leagues, a period of time that saw his son fall in love with a truly Canadian game: hockey.
“I wanted to play hockey growing up, but I couldn’t quite cut it and then I got tall and lanky,” Cal Quantrill said. “And then I also played third and catcher growing up. Obviously my dad is happy that I’m a pitcher. We have a lot more to talk about now, but he would have been fine with me doing the other (positions).”
A 26th-round draft pick of the New York Yankees last June, Quantrill chose college over the minor leagues.
“They’re happy that I chose college – it’s the safer of the two bets,” he said. “I had really good support. My dad went to college and did both and my mom went to college with my dad, so I had really good family support and they were really happy for me. They would have been happy for me if I’d gone in the draft as well.”
Now Quantrill is trying to get the Cardinal wins. It’s a task he’ll be engaged in for at least two more years, even though he rarely looks like a freshman on the mound.
Against Oregon State, he allowed three hits and two walks, while striking out six in eight complete innings. The Cardinal stranded 13 runners in a 1-0, 13-inning loss.
Eventually, the runs will come for Stanford, and with pitching such as Quantrill’s the wins will, too.