Sept. 11, 2009
BERKELEY, CALIF. - By Herb Benenson
For Cal baseball fans with a sense of history, seeing a Guinn and a Booker penciled into the starting lineup likely reminds them of a time nearly three decades ago when Rod Booker and Brian Guinn suited up on Evans Diamond.
But in today's world, Booker and Guinn refer to a different pairing, as their sons Austin Booker and B.J. Guinn have been teammates in Berkeley the past couple of seasons. Toss in Marcus Semien, son of former wide receiver Damien Semien, and it's quite clear that the Golden Bears currently sport a roster rife with Cal tradition.
Rod Booker was an All-American shortstop from 1979-80 and helped Cal reach the College World Series during the '80 campaign, while Brian Guinn was a three-year starter at short from 1981-83. Up at Memorial Stadium, Damien Semien was part of three bowl teams from 1990-93.
Now, their sons are getting a chance to prove what they can do for the Blue & Gold. Guinn, a shortstop, and Booker a second baseman/outfielder, recently completed their sophomore seasons for the Bears, and Semien just finished his freshman year at third base.
"People are fiercely loyal to this university once they've gone through here," baseball coach David Esquer said. "To have it passed off within a family makes it easier on the kids because they understand the value and the specialness of this school."
For B.J. Guinn, Cal Athletics seems to have always been a part of his life. Not only did his father play baseball for the Bears, but his mother, Wendy Driver, was a member of Jan Brogan's tennis teams in the mid-1980s. From attending summer camps to using his family's season tickets to serving as a ball boy at basketball games, Cal has become a special place for him.
"Growing up, I was always around Cal," B.J. said.
Only now instead of being a spectator, Guinn finds himself on the same playing field as his dad. During his sophomore year last spring, he started 51 of 53 games, batting .315 with a pair of home runs and 35 RBI. Perhaps more impressively, Guinn displayed his clutch hitting ability by leading the Bears with a .371 average with runners in scoring position and going an impressive 14-for-19 (.737) when at the plate with a runner at third base.
Guinn, though, nearly missed out on an opportunity to attend Cal right out of Berkeley High School. Named one of the Bay Area's Top 100 athletes by the Contra Costa Times, Guinn was taken in the 10th round of the 2007 Major League Draft by the Chicago White Sox.
Faced with perhaps his most important decision to date, Guinn sat down with his parents to figure out which course of action to take - go pro or commit to college for at least three years.
"At 18 years old, your mind's not really used to something happening so fast," Guinn said. "You think you're ready, but once it happens, it's kind of like, `OK, I've got to slow down for a minute and weigh all the options.'" Ultimately, the choice was clear, and his father's similar experience provided a big help.
"If he had gotten drafted higher, it would have been a tougher decision because financially, it would have been a whole different ballgame," said Brian Guinn, who earned his bachelor's degree in sociology from Cal and a master's through the sports management program at USF. "I think the experience of going to college is so important. A lot of my closest friends are guys I met in college, and that bond you have will never go away. Baseball will be over at some point - I don't care who you are - and after that, you still have to make a living. He's a very bright young man who knows that if baseball doesn't work out, he has to be able to do something."
Without a doubt, Esquer agrees with that assessment. Through his own playing career plus an additional 19 seasons as a collegiate coach, he knows too well the pitfalls of making the jump too soon to the professional ranks. Very few of those drafted ever make it out of the minor leagues, let alone earn the big-money contracts that allow for an early retirement.
"B.J.'s family is as good of a family as I've ever been associated with," Esquer said. "They really care about their son and they look after him. They really made a family decision. This is the environment they wanted him to go into before he becomes a professional."
Now two years into his tenure at Cal, Guinn, who declared early on his intent to major in landscape architecture, appreciates what he has learned at Cal, both in the classroom and on the field. He has clearly benefited from being able to mature in a college setting.
"I've gotten used to being able to handle myself a little more," he said. "When you're just out of high school, everything's so new you really don't know which way to go. You're floating a little bit. You get used to handling yourself and being grounded in a college situation."
Soon, though, Guinn will most likely have the chance to pursue his profession dreams, perhaps as early as next summer when he becomes eligible for the MLB Draft following his junior year. The skills that impressed scouts in high school have developed even further under the guidance of the Cal baseball staff.
"He is as athletically gifted as anyone in the college game," Esquer said. "You can tell by where he was drafted by professional baseball how highly thought of he is. That type of talent doesn't come into the college game that often."
Guinn realizes that there are no guarantees and he has to continuously hone his skills to get himself ready for the next level. Even then, there is no slowing down. The drive to improve must be present every day. Going to college has provided him the atmosphere to prepare physically and mentally for what is about to come.
"If you want to be good, if you want to be great, you've still got to work," B.J. said. "There's never a day when you stop working. When you get to the pro level, there's always somebody trying to take your job. You can never relax."
As a youngster, Guinn saw firsthand what could lie ahead after he leaves Cal. Although his family was always based in the East Bay, he and his mother would occasionally travel to watch his father play in the minors during a career that included stops with the Oakland A's, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox organizations.
"He's kind of grown up around professional sports," Brian Guinn said. "He's been in a Major League locker room; he's been on the field. Sometimes you think, does he appreciate it? Does he know that's what this is? When you sit and talk with him now as a young adult, he really does. He says, yeah, that was fun."
Before long, B.J. Guinn might be making his own memories in pro baseball, and at some point down the line, offer his children the same words of wisdom he received from his parents. The thought is not lost on the younger Guinns and Bookers.
"Austin's dad played with my dad, so we've talked about how the generations formed," Guinn said. "Maybe one day, our sons will play together, too."