The California baseball team pulled off a huge coup on Monday, scoring a 2015 commitment from 6-foot-4, 200-pound Mike Soroka -- the top right-handed pitcher in Canada over offers from Arizona State, Oregon State, Kentucky, Indiana and Washington State. Soroka will sign on the dotted line when the early signing period begins Nov. 12.
“The more we talked to the coaches and once we got to visit, we got a good feeling about it,” said Soroka. “We did the visit there a couple of days ago, and just loved it. It came down to the education, which is obviously world-class. The guys, I got to talk to a few of them. It was especially the coaches and just the program that they run really fits with me.”
The Calgary, Alberta, native chose the Bears after taking back-to-back officials last weekend to Berkeley and Tempe, Ariz., and the connection to pitching coach Mike Neu came about thanks to Neu’s professional baseball background, and the World Wood Bat Championship in Jupiter, Fla., where Soroka played with the Toronto Blue Jays scout team three weeks ago. Neu had seen Soroka at the Area Code Games, and pinged an old teammate, former big leaguer Chris Reitsma, who pitched in Triple-A with the Cincinnati Reds along with Neu.
“It was actually really quick,” said Soroka. “We got an email from them a couple days after Jupiter, from the pitching coach of the Bears. He pitched with my pitching coach for my club team and the junior national team, so they know each other a little bit. We basically decided right there that Cal was a place we wanted to go check out, and we wouldn’t forgive ourselves if we didn’t even check it out.”
And check it out, he did. After taking a visit to Oregon State (unofficially, after the Area Code Games), and official visits to Indiana, Kentucky and Washington State two weekends ago, Soroka came out to Berkeley on Thursday and Friday of last week, right after getting an overwhelming scholarship offer from the Bears.
“We had to get the offer prior to the visit, because it was so quick, and we had to make a decision obviously, today, so it was very quick, and the scholarship blew us away,” Soroka said. “We were just so thrilled already, and having loved the campus, it was a dream come true.”
After Soroka visited Cal, he tripped officially to Arizona State on Saturday and Sunday.
“We really needed to get those visits done,” Soroka said. “It’s crucial, because that’s three years of my life. We just wanted to make sure. You don’t get the sense of what it’s going to be like there if you don’t visit and you don’t hang out with some of the guys and coaches. You don’t understand fully what it’s going to be like. I wanted to take full advantage of all that.
“It was useful taking all five visits, and I’m extremely happy I got to commit to Cal.”
On his visit to Berkeley, Soroka got a chance to watch the first of three Blue-Gold Series games at Evans Diamond on Friday, started by one of his hosts – sophomore righty Daulton Jefferies.
“I got to watch the first game, and it was actually quite fun,” Soroka said. “I enjoyed myself in the stands, there. I thought it was awesome, the competitiveness between the two teams, and I saw some really good bats and some really good arms. It’s going to be a fun three years.
“All those guys have a quiet confidence, and that’s the way I like to model myself. I just really took to them. It’s a place I really want to be.”
After he visited the Bears, Soroka went to ASU, and, despite the program’s historical success and player development, he felt that Berkeley was the place for him.
“All the teams have good history and reputations for developing guys, but a lot of places could be different coaching staffs than there were back then,” Soroka said. “It’s slightly different from year to year, but I really feel confident in the coaching staff. They were coaches that I could really see bringing this team quite a ways. That was big, for sure, and just the way it felt like home. Everyone was welcoming and I fit in there. I can feel it.”
A top arm like Soroka – rated the No. 45 right-handed pitcher in the 2015 class – usually draws some draft buzz, but Soroka is dead-set on going to college.
“I’m committed; I’m going to Berkeley,” Soroka said. “Unless things really happen in the spring, and we get an offer that we just can’t turn down, it’s been a lifelong dream to go to college, and to have that at Cal-Berkeley, too, that education is really hard to turn down.”
Cal being a cosmopolitan and world-renowned university certainly played a role in the decision.
“A little bit; it’s always nice to know that you’re going to have Cal on your resumé,” Soroka said. “That goes a long way, by itself. It makes a difference, for sure, but, really, it was just a bonus, having the coaches and the players and the way everything is, it’s just perfect.”
Before Soroka gets to call himself a Bear, he’ll pitch for his hometown club team in the spring a bit, but most of his focus will be on international competition.
“We’re so busy because the Junior National Team in Canada is very different than the American Junior National Team,” Soroka said. “We do trips from March until Worlds, or the Pan Ams, at the end of each year. I went on all the trips last year. We did the first one in the fall, and then come back for three in the spring, and a couple more before the Pan Ams. That was an experience in itself, right there.”
Soroka is more likely to see snow on the ground than the California sun at this time of year – he sent a photo after he committed to Neu showing a foot of snow on the ground back in Calgary “that’s not going anywhere, any time soon” – but he experienced some very unfamiliar weather last year at the Pan American Games in Mexico.
“We got stuck there,” Soroka said. “Hurricane Odile hit close to us, and partially us. We were safe where we were, but it damaged the airport that we were going to fly out of. No one was going to fly into there, so we got flown out by the Mexican military three days after the hurricane hit. It was long. There was no service, no water, no power. We were just sitting around, hoping to get a flight out. We were just hoping for the best.”
Soroka has a four-seam and two-seam fastball, and features a circle change.
“It’s usually a four-seam, unless the two-seam is really working; whatever feels right that day, I guess,” Soroka said. “I have a curveball or a slider. It’s kind of in-between, so I guess you could call it a slurve. Some people call it a curveball, some people call it a slider. I think it’s somewhere in between. It has a different kind of break.”
His four-seam fastball tops out at 92, but it usually sits around 88-90.
“The first inning and relieving, I push it up into the lower 90s, but I’m usually around the upper 80s,” Soroka said.