The UC San Diego baseball team enters the week with a 21-7 overall record and won 16-of-17 games during one stretch, leading to a national ranking as high as No. 6. The Tritons have been winning with both hitting (.320 team average) and pitching (4.54 team ERA) this season. Part of UCSD’s success can be attributed to designated hitter/first baseman Chris Franco. The senior from Chatsworth, Calif. enters the week hitting .345 with five homeruns and a team-high 29 RBI. Franco recently took time after a busy finals week to discuss life as a student-athlete on the UC San Diego baseball team.
Q: After hitting .272 last year, you are hitting over 70 points better this season at a .345 average. To what can you attribute to the improved average this year?
FRANCO: I am a very aggressive hitter and that can be both a positive and negative quality over the course of a season. Last year, my success at the plate increased as the season progressed. After rupturing my spleen, and sitting out all summer and fall before last season, I struggled getting my timing and rhythm back. Hitting is all about rhythm, confidence, and the idea of "the streak" so I guess that was the difference between last year and this year. Working much harder in the pre-season, I was able to come out of the gates prepared and confident in my abilities and I guess it has shown in the numbers. Not to mention I learned how to hit a curve-ball a whole lot better thanks to Coach Oseguera.
Q: You were part of the 2007 squad which reached the NCAA West Region Tournament for the first time in school history. Was that the goal of that season? What are the team goals this year?
FRANCO: The collective goal of every season may vary in specifics but always revolves around winning a National Championship. Reaching the West Region Tournament is just where the journey ended in 2007. For this year, a National Championship remains where we focus our sights and with more experience and a knowledge of what it takes to get there, its up to us as a team to obtain it. I think another important goal that the senior class is trying to instill in this team is to really enjoy everyday, not take each pitch too serious/or heavy, and have fun every day. Its our last year, and we especially want to remember a season of gaining success by having fun and playing loose.
Q: What do you like about head coach Dan O'Brien?
FRANCO: There is one thing about Coach O'Brien that I truly respect and admire him for and that is his Passion. He prides himself on winning and making his program and team better day-in and day-out. It cannot be denied that his passion helps this team succeed. Although sometimes it can be overwhelming, it is something that most collegiate coaches just don't have, and I appreciate his passion and how he truly cares about the men on this team. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, and although I think he needs to work on that "body language" a little bit, there is no doubt that he is emotionally invested in UCSD Baseball, success or failure.
That means a lot to the guys’ daily attitudes and approach to the game considering the length of the season, and time invested year around. I think his mental approach to the game is remarkable and he works hard at transcending that mentality to the guys.
Q: Throughout your two-years at UCSD, you have spent time at first base, third base, and designated hitter. Do you have a preference?
FRANCO: No. I grew up playing third base so I don't mind playing there and the transition to first base is easy. You get to use a huge glove at first so it’s pretty fun. Being the DH can surprisingly be difficult at times, because you have to try and stay dialed in when only getting 4-5 plate appearances a game. I have done it a lot this year and have actually come to love it. Tim Mort and I call it "living the dream," because I get to show up on game days and just hit, and hang out with the guys in the dugout all game. Hitting is the fun part of baseball anyways so I would be lying if I said I didn't love it.
Q: What are some of your top baseball memories at any level?
FRANCO: Wow. I wouldn't even know where to begin. The memories I cherish the most are just the guys I have met throughout my career, and the different team chemistries and qualities I have been apart of. Each and every homerun are top memories, its the reason I play baseball. And the championship/playoff runs I have been apart of over the years. There is no feeling like strapping it on and trying to prove that you are the best team. Also, I have always developed different yearly pre-game rituals that I will remember forever, pre-game routines are classic and what keep you sane in the long road of a baseball season.
Q: You list golf as a hobby. Have you ever gotten to play a round with any of your teammates? Who is the best, who can drive the ball the farthest?
FRANCO: Yes. I have played with a few guys on the team. Chris Hom, Buck Wright, and Derek "Hulk" Barham. Derek gives me a run for my money both with the long ball and putting up a good score. Buck prides himself on looking good on the greens and I respect him for that, and I think C-Hom wants to be good but just doesn't have it yet. Barham puts those biceps to use on the tee-box and tries to muscle up and hit it far but still plays from behind mine. It’s all out of pure fun, but I will hold the title for the time being. Hopefully they don’t read this.
Q: Is there a lot of baseball background in your family?
FRANCO: Yes, since I can remember baseball has always been the number one topic of conversation at home and with extended family. Cousins, grandparents, uncles, all play baseball, most at a college level. My uncle played for Cal State Northridge and was drafted by the Cardinals, but ended career on knee injury, my brother played at the University of San Francisco, and plays in the Oakland Athletics Organization as a pitcher now. It has just always been a lifestyle for me I guess, and I have no problem with that.
Q: Which pitcher on the Triton staff are you glad you do not have to face in a game?
FRANCO: I don't mean to pick on Derek Barham again, but it would probably be him strictly on the basis that even just standing in on bullpens, he feels the need to dot me. So what would change in the game??? I hate getting dotted and he knows that but I don’t think it matters, so yes definitely Barham.
Q: What are some of your favorite songs to hear on game day?
FRANCO: My walk up song is a no-doubter. (Tom Petty: "Last Dance w/ Mary Jane) Much love to Buck Wright because he did a great job with our pre-game mix. I love hearing all the classic rock songs, be it Journey, Scorpions: "Rock You Like a Hurricane", ZZ Top, all that stuff. I can rock out to anything really, so the country is fun also. But my roots will always point to the classics. Bob Marley-"Dont Worry, Be Happy" who can deny that one? And soon there will be new additions like "Hakuna Matata" (Lion King), and some more Jimmy Buffett favorites. So fans need to come and be entertained.
Q: What's your favorite place to eat in San Diego?
FRANCO: Being that I live in Pacific Beach, I have to stay true to my hood.
"Rocky's"--best burgers in San Diego and possibly the whole Southwest.
Food Network's own "Drive-ins, Diners, and Dives" honors it as a national best. I also love the New Zealand themed burger-bar, "Bare Back Grill", San Diego State's "Trujillios," and my personal favorite "Mizu Sushi."
The owner there is my favorite and she hooks it up when I bring dates or friends there so great service+ great sushi...can you ask for more?
Q:What do you plan to do after you graduate?
FRANCO: I plan on moving to Australia with teammate Buck Wright. Upon arrival we will spend every dime we have on a run-down fishing boat, or sailboat much like the one in "Captain Ron." We will play some professional Australian Baseball on occasion but our real day jobs will be running Great White Shark tours, throwing fish bait off the back of the boat and providing tourists the ability to see these sharks up-close-and-personal.
Its going to be a hit. This is no joke either... we already have the flight plans.