OAKLAND, Calif. -- History is important to Marcus Semien. Legacy is important. Around his neck, he wears a silver disc, bearing the thumbprint of his grandmother.
California blue and gold is a part of his DNA: He was born while his father Damien Semien was a wide receiver at Cal, and he's still dating his college sweetheart, former Bears volleyball star Tarah Murrey.
So, when the Richmond, Calif., native returned to the Easy Bay as a Major Leaguer 12 days ago, the topic of legacy was on his mind.
To say that Semien's Coliseum debut was his return to the East Bay is true only in the sense that it was his first game back in his old stomping grounds while wearing a Chicago White Sox uniform.
That said, it could have gone better.
"I've had games like that before, bad games, but not in front of that many people watching and cheering for me," he said the day following his 0-for-4, four-strikeout performance in an 11-4 loss to the Athletics.
Semien says that he had at least 30 friends and family members in attendance.
"Everybody came out to support, but we got beaten pretty badly," Semien said. "Individually, I didn't have my best game, but it's about bouncing back."
Bouncing back is just what Semien and the 2011 California baseball team did, after being cut on Sept. 28, 2010. Over the course of that season, Semien and the Bears captured the hearts of the nation as they made a run to Omaha and the College World Series. Semien is the first member of that team to return to the East Bay as a Major League player.
Semien almost wasn't alone, either. The ace of that 2011 staff, Erik Johnson, broke camp with the White Sox along with Semien, and enjoyed some limited success, with a nine-strikeout, 6.2-inning performance on April 15 against Boston, but was sent down to Triple-A Charlotte right before the Pale Hose came to town.
"That was awesome, to share that with him, to share it with a guy you lived in the same apartment with, in college; you've been through everything at Cal together; last year, making our debut the same night, at Yankee Stadium, that was pretty awesome for both of us and our families, to experience that, and for both of us to experience that," Semien says.
Semien's Major League debut came on Sept. 4 of last season, when both he and Johnson faced off against the Bronx Bombers. That night, Semien went 2-for-4 with an RBI. The great Derek Jeter even remarked on Semien's first career big league hit as they crossed paths, saying "It's that easy, huh?"
"He's one of the players I grew up idolizing, so it was a pretty surreal moment," Semien says. "This being his last year, it was pretty special that that happened right before he retired. I'll always remember that […] Barry Bonds was my favorite player, but Jeter was my favorite shortstop. I grew up a shortstop. I've always been a shortstop, so that was pretty special."
Semien and Johnson both hold special places in Cal baseball history, and Semien says that he's more than aware of the legacy of that 2011 team – the last members of which graduated this month, in Devon Rodriguez, Kyle Porter, Derek Campbell, Vince Bruno, Michael Theofanopoulos, Jacob Wark and Trevor Hildenberger. Those players graduated after a strong finish by the Bears, which Bruno likened to how Cal played during the 2011 run to the College World Series: They played with love for one another, they played loose, and they played fun. As a result, the Bears won their last three Pac-12 series, including two series on the road.
"Yeah, man. I wish we would have won it all. That would have been a bigger legacy for us," says Semien, looking around the White Sox locker room. "Going through everything we went through, to get as far as we did, that was a pretty special thing. But, I don't believe in moral victories. The goal is to win it all, and we didn't do that, but we opened a lot of eyes, and opened a lot of doors for the program."
Since the program was saved by over $10 million in donations, the Bears have seen huge leaps in attendance, fueled by the addition of lights and a new video scoreboard. None of that would have been possible without what Semien, Johnson, et al did.
"The program got lights. That's a big step. It helps with recruiting, it helps with getting more fans to come to night games," says Semien. "I haven't been able to go back to a game, because I've been playing, but I've seen pictures, I've seen how the atmosphere looks and everything. That's a good thing, right there."
Other former Bears in the bigs -- Brennan Boesch, Allen Craig, Josh Satin, Brandon Morrow -- have all come through the Bay during their careers, and contributed mightily to the effort to save the program, but Semien is among a new generation of former Cal players who not only come through town, but make a point of getting back out to Evans Diamond.
On Jan. 24 of this year, several more pros returned to Evans Diamond. In addition to Tony Renda, 2011 outfielder and leadoff man Austin Booker (Oakland A's minor leaguer), 2011 outfielder Danny Oh (New York Yankees minor leaguer) and 2011 starting pitcher Dixon Anderson (Washington Nationals minor leaguer) spent the day working out at Evans, along with other alums: San Diego Padres starting pitcher Tyson Ross, Chicago Cubs outfielder Brett Jackson, Cubs catcher John Baker (head coach David Esquer's first recruit), Washington Nationals outfielder Jeff Kobernus, Cubs minor league backstop Charlie Cutler and Padres farmhand B.J. Guinn.
"I didn't get a chance to go to the thing that Esquer set up because I was at Sox Fest. I didn't get the chance to go to that, but things like that are good for the program, good for the players to meet us and talk to us and ask questions," Semien says. "Hopefully, they ask questions, because that's what it's all about. If I were a player at Cal and we had that, I'd be asking as many questions as I could, so I could know what I needed to do to get to the next level."
Semien, though, has been back, multiple times, to work during the offseason, and has also been back to play in the annul Alumni Game. It's part of what he sees as a responsibility, one he shares with his fellow 2011 teammates. Renda has been back multiple times to work with players during the fall, Johnson has made several Alumni Game appearances (though not on the hill), as has Matt Flemer. Mitch Delfino has been back to take hacks in the batting cages, and Chadd Krist has even come back to work with the catchers.
"It's very important," Semien says of him and the rest of the pros coming back. "Playing college baseball is not all about trying to make it to the pros. It's about continuing your education, but we put so much time and effort into baseball. We spend more time on the field than we do in the classroom, you really put all your eggs into that, and you want to become a pro. Us being around those guys, to give them any information they need, we can tell them our experiences and how we got from Cal to pro ball and what worked for us, what didn't work for us, what were keys that helped us get there. Anything we can let those guys know, I'll be happy to."
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