BERKELEY – With three College World Series teams, four conference champions, 10 NCAA regional teams and eight teams receiving votes in last season’s postseason top 25, the 2017 Cal baseball schedule leaves little doubt that a young group of Golden Bears will get its share of good competition this spring.
And, in unveiling the 2017 slate Thursday, head coach David Esquer gave fans a look at what should be an entertaining season at Evans Diamond. 28 home games and 17 televised contests mean that Cal fans won’t lack for opportunities to see the Bears in action against a host of good teams from across the country.
“I think our preseason schedule represents schools and teams that have been and look to be in regionals every year,” Esquer said. “From Cal Poly to Pepperdine, which in the West Coast Conference is used to going to regionals to Texas Tech, which was a World Series team last year and Gonzaga, who was a regional team a year ago. And we play TCU, who is an elite team, late in the season. We set that schedule to try to prepare us for the best competition on the West Coast. It’s a little closer to home than we have been in past years with our furthest trip being out to Texas Tech but I think for this young team, it’s going to be a real challenge to compete with the quality of teams we have on our schedule, let alone get ready for Pac-12 competition.”
The season gets underway from Feb. 17-19 when the Bears host a Cal Poly squad projected by many to finish near the top of the Big West in the first of four non-conference series to begin the year. From there, the Bears travel to Lubbock, Texas to take on a Texas Tech squad that won 47 games in 2016, ended the year ranked fifth in the nation by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and made it to Omaha.
Cal returns to Berkeley from March 3-5 to host four games against a Gonzaga team that ended its season in a NCAA regional and received votes at the end of 2016. One week later, the Bears stay in the West Coast Conference but hit the road to take on a traditional power in Pepperdine that returns seven seniors this season and figures to again factor in the chase for the WCC crown.
After hosting a mid-week game against a Minnesota team that finished 2016 with the best conference record in the Big 10, Cal opens Pac-12 play against Oregon in a three-game series that begins on March 17. The Bears’ first conference road trip follows at UCLA and that will mark Cal’s first TV appearance of the season with all three games scheduled to be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks.
A Monday night game against Long Beach State on March 27 marks the start of a lengthy midseason stretch in the Bay Area for the Bears as home series against Washington State and Arizona State combine with local road trips to Stanford and WCC champion Saint Mary’s to keep Cal in the region through April 11.
That set of local dates gives way to more time on the road for the Bears as, after the Arizona State series concludes, Cal plays 12 of its next 16 games on the road. Three games at Utah, mid-week games at Stanford and San Francisco and weekend series at Washington and Oregon State are broken up by a home series against USC (April 21-23) and a mid-week game against the Dons (May 2).
The going gets no easier as the Bears come into the home stretch. Stanford visits for three games from May 13-15 and perennial national power TCU, fresh off a trip to the College World Series and 49 wins in 2016, pays a visit to Evans Diamond from May 18-20. The regular season concludes May 26-28 in Tucson against an Arizona team that finished as the national runner-up in Omaha last year.
Including the UCLA series, Cal will appear on the Pac-12 Networks a total of 17 times in 2017. Both mid-week games at Stanford, home series against Arizona State and Stanford and road series against Oregon State and Arizona will also be broadcast live.
“It’s going to be a typical bloody schedule where everyone is capable of beating everybody,” Esquer said of the Pac-12. “Your ability to win at home and to make sure you hold serve at home but then also win on the road is the key to the league every year.”
Cal fans will have plenty of new faces to get to know early in the season as the Bears welcome 18 new players to the squad in 2017. With the graduation of 11 seniors and seven players being drafted in the Major League Baseball first-year player draft, including 2016 Pac-12 Player of the Year Brett Cumberland and first lottery round selection Daulton Jefferies, Esquer will look to a mixture of returning veterans and plenty of youth to shape the newest incarnation of Cal baseball.