At the beginning of the summer, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei center fielder Sam Cachola told his friend Nick, upon making the decision to quit football to focus on baseball, that he’d be committed to a Division I school by January, because, he said, he’d out-work everybody.
On Oct. 19, Cachola fulfilled that promise, pulling the trigger and committing to new hitting coach Brad Sanfilipo and the California baseball team, becoming the third member of the 2017 recruiting class, following Darren Baker and Chris Joaquim.
The 5-foot-11.5 ,180-pound righty flipped the script on a normal college commitment. While the tradition of picking a hat off a table in front of an assemblage of friends, family and coaches has come into vogue, Cachola actually picked the hat before he picked the school, and he did it in Omaha.
“In all honesty, I remember when I was in sixth grade, I went to the College World Series,” says Cachola. “I was picking out a hat in the store, and I ended up picking out a Cal hat, just because I thought it looked cool. To this day, I still wear that hat all the time. Looking back, it worked out that that’s where I wanted to go.”
Stop doing the math in your heads. That wasn’t the 2011 College World Series featuring the Bears. Instead, it was the 2012 edition of the Omaha staple, which saw Arizona take home the crown. For perspective, five members of the 2011 College World Series Bears participated in their first Cal Baseball Alumni Game together (Devon Rodriguez, Michael Theofanopoulos and Andrew Knapp for the first time) the day that Cachola committed.
Cachola first came to Cal in July, after he pulled the cord on football. He was set to be the backup varsity quarterback this season for the Monarchs, but wanted to focus on his summer on the diamond.
“Me and my BPA team went up in the beginning of the summer, and I always knew Cal was a good school, and what-not, and that was the main thing for me and my family, was just the education part,” says Cachola. “When I went up, just walking around before we played there, I just loved the vibe and everything about it, and when [BPA coach] Jared [Sandler] told me that they were interested in me, that’s definitely, I’d say, one of my dream schools. Things just kept materializing. Once I came up on that last visit with my family, I just fell in love with it.
“When [pitching coach and recruiting coordinator] Mike [Neu] saw me, I had a really, really good round of BP, and in the game, I had a walk and maybe a groundout, so not a whole lot. That’s when they first started talking to me, and then they came down to BPA and they saw me hit BP at BPA, and I swung it well there. After that, I came back for the camp at Cal, the prospect camp.”
Cachola and his BPA DeMarini team went to Berkeley, the University of San Francisco and St. Mary’s on the tour, but it was Evans Diamond that really held Cachola’s fancy. The feeling among the Cal staff was mutual, mainly due to his strong arm from the outfield, something that the current Bears lack. They have speed to burn with Brian Celsi, Aaron Knapp and Devin Pearson, but no real booming cannons like that of Chad Bunting, who also participated in that Alumni Game. In fact, a strong outfield arm has been absent since Bunting left following his graduation in 2012.
That arm actually developed because of Cachola’s exploits on the gridiron.
“I remember when I was little, I used to have a real stiff arm,” says Cachola. “It was real robotic and it was good, but it was slow, and then, as soon as I started playing football, my quarterback coach worked on a quick release, and that loosened me up for baseball. Ever since, coming from football to baseball, throwing the football really strengthened my arm.”
Last year, Cachola hit just over .400 on junior varsity, not playing varsity ball because his commitment to football forced him to put down the bat for three months. He says that he wasn’t really back into baseball shape until one week into the season. Still, though, his work this offseason – hitting .500 during the summer – has propelled him to two offers – one from the Bears, and another from Utah, which he also visited.
Cachola made one more visit to Cal, the weekend of the Washington football game, and there, the Bears saw more than just his arm.
“I had a phenomenal day,” Cachola says. “Everything I hit, I just smashed. After that, Brad told me to call him that night, and I called him, and that’s when they offered me.”
It took about three weeks for Cachola to mull things over and come to a decision.
“My dad loves Cal,” says Cachola. “He went to Cal for a summer course when he was in college, because he had to pick up a few extra credits. He has always liked it. My cousin went to UCLA, but now she lives up in San Francisco, and her boyfriend went to Cal, and he’s always talking about it. Everyone I’ve talked with, I’ve heard tons of good things about it. When I went up, even before I knew they were interested in me, I just loved the school.”
Cal was the first to offer Cachola, and beyond just his prowess on the diamond, he’s an all-star in the classroom, too.
Last year, Cachola had a 4.4 GPA, which would have been 4.5 without his A in baseball (which, thanks to honors and Advanced Placement classes being worth a 5.0, actually dropped his GPA).
If he continues his straight-A course this year, without baseball, he’ll finish his sophomore year with a staggering 4.8.
“I’m taking the hardest possible schedule you can at my school,” says Cachola, who’s taking Honors Algebra 2/Trig and AP European History.