He is now a 22-year-old senior and the anchor of a very good Cal State Fullerton baseball team. Like most collegiate pitchers, he hopes that with each pitch, strikeout and pickoff, he becomes a stronger presence on the major league radar.
His name is Jeffrey George Kaplan - better known as Jeff or "Kappy" by his teammates - and in the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, he's "sort of a big deal."
Last year, despite a rough start, the Titans managed to play their way into the College World Series. In the process, former Titan pitcher Wes Roemer received a wealth of accolades and fanfare, but Kaplan was right there with him every step of the way.
Roemer went 11-7 overall in 19 starts, and Kaplan also went 11-3 overall, also in 19 starts. Roemer posted a 3.19 ERA and had opposing hitters bat .261 against him, while Kaplan had a 3.30 ERA and an opposing batting average of .253.
Kaplan also posted two complete game shutouts - something not even Roemer did that season - and looks to ride those impressive stats into a bigger role on the team this season.
"I try to position myself in the staff as someone who's a leader, but at the same time, on the same level as everyone else," Kaplan said. "You have to play devil's advocate sometimes because you have to be the leader and discipline guys and be their friend and teammate at the same time."
One difference between this season and last is the fact that all eyes will be focused on Kaplan from day one. He has already been named to the 2008 Preseason Brooks Wallace Player of the Year Award Watch List, an annual list published by the College Baseball Foundation noting top college baseball players in the country.
"It's not more pressure, it's just different from last year in that I have to live up to expectations that people have," Kaplan said. "I'm the guy who opens the door for the whole season or series. I'm the one that sets the tone, really."
Something that could impact Kaplan's progression is the arrival of new Head Coach Dave Serrano, who rejoined the Titan program following the departure of former Head Coach George Horton.
Serrano also serves as the team's pitching coach and has a unique perspective of Kaplan, having coached against him last year while at the UC Irvine program.
"There's not a lot that rocks his world and it's hard to even get him to smile sometimes, but he's a competitor," Serrano said. "He's tough on himself, but his mentality and his bullpen routine is as good as anyone I've been around."
Kaplan's demeanor on the field - serious, business-like, straight-laced - doesn't exactly translate away from the mound.
While Kaplan will probably never win a class clown award, fellow pitcher Daniel Renken said he does like to joke around once in a while.
Senior pitcher Adam Jorgenson, who also looks to step up as a leader this season, said "Kappy" isn't all work and no play.
"[Kaplan] isn't always serious, he's a laid-back kind of guy and likes to do fun things," Jorgenson said. "He's definitely the leader of our pitching staff, and it looks like we're going to be better than we were last year."
As for Kaplan's post-college plans, they can be summed up in just three words: Major League Baseball. He hopes to play at the next level, like most college athletes do, but many would be surprised to hear where.
"Doesn't matter," he said with a snicker on his face. "Whoever treats me the best and pays me the most."
The Titans first game of the season is Friday, Feb. 22 against Texas Christian University at 6:30 p.m.
CSUF Baseball makes its home debut Tuesday, Feb. 26 against Loyola Marymount. The game takes place at 6 p.m. at Goodwin Field.
Kaplan leads Titan pitching staff
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