Tony Gwynn Stadium- San Diego, California
Baseball was made to be played in the day. The beauty of the multicolored, alternating, green lines on the outfield turf, the contrast between the dirt and grass on the infield diamond, and the luster of the player’s uniforms are all accentuated by the sun. Natural shadows that move through the game instead of the unnatural X’s that shadow players under lights harken back to the days of old before night games.
Opening Day in baseball at any level from Little League to the Major Leagues is, likewise, nostalgic to a bygone era when life did not move as fast.
On Friday, San Diego State University and the University of San Diego opened the 2021 season under the sun – the way Abner Doubleday meant it to be when he invented the game. Fittingly, it was the 138th all-time matchup between the schools.
The pitching matchup could have featured the two best college pitchers in the city – SDSU’s Troy Melton and USD’s Carter Rustad. Instead, Rustad will pitch tomorrow against Kohl Simas for one simple reason: to force the professional scouts to spend two days watching the teams instead of one. If Melton and Rustad had both pitched Friday, the scouts would not have had less reason to come back Saturday. More time in front of scouts potentially raises the profile of each player on the teams. As they left the stadium, multiple scouts could be heard telling the SDSU event staff, “See you tomorrow.”
Two sections full of scouts saw Troy Melton struggle in the first. A lead-off, first pitch double by USD’s Sha Mcguire started things for the Toreros. Mcguire moved to third on a sac fly and scored on an error by Aztecs’ first baseman Jacob Cruce. A two-out single by Otsuka brought in another run. The two hits were the only hits Melton allowed until the fifth.
Melton’s day ended after 4.2 innings. He was pulled after giving up his first earned run of the game on a pair of seeing-eye singles. One other run was credited to Melton when Christian Winston was unable to close the door on the USD. Melton was wild throughout the day. He only walked one but hit four batters. He struck out three.
“He managed himself well.” Coach Martinez said when asked how Melton handled playing in front of so many scouts. “I thought he did a great. He left a couple of changeups up actually that got tattooed early in the game and then really had a lot of soft contact, a couple of infield hits that scratched a couple of the runs across. Thought he responded well.”
Before the season, Martinez said it would be the pitching staff that would “carry the mail” this year, but it was the offense that carried the pitching staff on this day. SDSU pushed across four runs in the second, one in the third, three in the fifth, four in the sixth, and two in the seventh. Their 14 runs were the most scored on Opening Day since 1964 when they scored 16 against Oregon State.
The depth of the lineup was on full display. Every starter for the Aztecs had a hit. They got RBIs from seven players and eight scored runs. The game stars were the three super seniors who returned to SDSU for a second senior year. The trio, Mike Jarvis, Jacob Cruce, and Ryan Orr, were a combined seven for eleven with five RBI and six runs scored. Each made key plays in the field. Cruce picked difficult throws at first, Orr made a diving catch in left, and Jarvis made the defensive play of the game.
SDSU opened the fifth with a 5-2 lead, but the momentum began to shift when USD was able to chase Melton from the game. After bringing across one run, the Toreros loaded the bases with two outs. Ranging to his left, Jarvis dove on the second base side of the hole to field a ball that looked ticketed for center field off the bat. One run scored, but Jarvis was able to throw USD third basemen Adam Lopez at the plate to end the inning. Javis’ play kept SDSU in the lead at 5-4. USD would never get closer.
However, following the game, it was not their exceptional play coach Martinez praised, but the leadership they brought to the team.
“Well, we’re going to start calling them ‘the graybeards.’ Coach Martinez said with a smile. “We’re blessed with their leadership and them making the decision to play another year here. The reason they’ve played so well is because they’ve taken the opportunity to grow as a leader, get outside of themselves. What happens when you do those things, you can calm down and play baseball with some purpose and intent. All three of those guys did that today.”
“We’re going to continue leaning on them. They had great performances today, but that’s not going to be like that every day. I think the overriding deal is their leadership. Being able to calm down when the fire gets lit – like what happened in the first inning. Those guys were the first to come in and calm everything down.”
SDSU and USD are scheduled to play at 1 pm Saturday and 2 pm Sunday. An internet feed should be available on www.goaztecs.com.