'96 In Review
Like a nightmare that never resolved itself, the California baseball team suffered through a disappointing 1996 season, finishing 27-29 overall and 10-20 (fifth) in the Pacific-10 Conference Southern Division.
The Golden Bears lost several games during the year due to injuries, disastrous innings, key errors and just plain bad luck. What made the season even more disappointing was Cal's No. 5 preseason ranking in Collegiate Baseball and No. 7 ranking in Baseball America. "There is no doubt that this was one of the most disappointing years in my coaching career," said veteran coach Bob Milano, who did earn his 600th career victory with a 5-3 victory over Fresno State Feb. 24 at Evans Diamond.
The Bears entered their conference schedule with a 11-7 non-league mark, including winning two-of-three games in series versus Pepperdine, Long Beach State and Fresno State. But before Cal took on UCLA to start its Six-Pac schedule, the Bears lost two star players in junior shortstop Dan Cey to a fractured left wrist sliding into second base Feb. 11 against Long Beach State, and sophomore righthander Ryan Drese to a strained ligament in his right elbow/forearm Feb. 23 against Fresno State. Plus, top freshman catcher Jason Hill had broken his right thumb prior to the season opener and didn't return to action until Mar. 17, and Andy Tarpley, a top hitter from 1994, failed to become eligible academically. Cal never really rebounded from its early season adversity and was swept by UCLA to open league play. Things did not get any better for the Bears as Milano's squad lost conference series to every Six-Pac team except Arizona, whom Cal won all six contests.
Despite the below average season, the Bears finished with a respectable .295 team batting average and 4.67 team ERA. Cal also had several individuals who had fine seasons. Freshman second baseman Brian Oliver was named a freshman All-American in both Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball as he was superb both in the field and at the plate, batting .335 and leading the Bears in assists with 195 and helping Cal turn 55 double plays. Cey rebounded from his injury to become one of the Six-Pac's top hitters, batting .377 with 22 stolen bases and hitting safely in 22 of 24 conference games he played.
Senior co-captain Jonathan Petke concluded an excellent collegiate career, batting .322 and leading the Bears in runs (46), hits (69), home runs (7), walks (35) and RBI (56) in '96. Petke finished his Cal career fourth on the school's all-time list in games (221), fifth in hits (241), sixth in runs (153) and doubles (41), and eighth in RBI (136). Junior center fielder Ivan Lewis was once again the conference leader in stolen bases, going 44-for-46 (tied for ninth nationally) and was a perfect 21-for-21 against conference foes. Lewis also batted .300 on the year and currently has 96 career stolen bases, the fifth-best Cal all-time career mark.
Cey was the winner of the Robert A. Roos Batting Cup as the Bears top hitter, Petke earned the Clint Evans Award as Cal's most valuable player, senior infielder Jason Rianda (.305, 18 RBI) won the Edwin E. Lord Jr. Award as the most inspirational player and freshman right-hander Tyler Walker (2-1, 3.58 ERA, one save) won the George Wolfman Award as the most improved player. Cey and Petke were also selected to the All-Pac-10 Southern Division team and junior first baseman John Furstenthal was picked as a member of the GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-America District VIII Team.