Part of a stellar starting staff for Coach Dan O'Brien's No. 1-ranked UC San Diego Baseball team, senior Kirby St. John has been a solid member of the Triton rotation for the past four years. Already 5-1 in 2010, the 6-foot-1 right-hander has 20 career wins and was a second team All-CCAA selection as a sophomore when he went 8-1. But it's not the numbers that have O'Brien singing St. John's praises. "With Kirby, it's all about competitiveness and composure," says the 13th-year Triton skipper. "Sometimes it's not pretty, but he gets the job done and he has really stepped up in his ‘big' starts for us." A communications major at UCSD's Roosevelt College, the Santa Cruz native spent time recently talking about being a pitcher, this year's UCSD team and his interests off the field.
Q: Can you tell us about how you became a pitcher?
ST. JOHN: My dad was a pitcher when he played minor league baseball, so he always taught me to pitch throughout my younger years. However, in Little League through high school, I pitched and played infield and it wasn't until I got to UCSD that I became a pitcher only. When I arrived here my freshman year, the coaching staff made it pretty clear right away that I wasn't going to be seeing a bat anymore. They said my future was in pitching and they were right.
Q: What's the best and worst thing about being a pitcher?
ST. JOHN: The worst thing about being a pitcher is not being able to do the fun things that position players do, like take batting practice, field ground balls and run the bases. But the best thing about being a pitcher is being involved in every play and being engaged in a one-on-one battle with a hitter all of the time.
Q: How would you describe your pitching style? How does it compare to the other three starters on the Triton staff?
ST. JOHN: I think the word that best describes me on the mound is competitive. I have a hard time defining myself as something like a power pitcher or a finesse pitcher, but I think what makes me successful is not giving in to adverse situations and trusting my abilities to be good enough to get hitters out when I need to. As far as the other starters, we are all fairly different in our "stuff," but we all pride ourselves on having this competitive attitude on the mound. Tim Shibuya is a little more of a power pitcher than me, but what makes him so good is his ability to spot his pitches where he wants to and get ground balls. Like Shibuya, Matt Rossman really relies on spotting his pitches, which he probably does better than anyone on the staff. He is really good at setting up hitters. Guido Knudson is also a little more of a power pitcher than me, as he relies more on his fastball to gain the upper hand on hitters.
Q: Speaking of this year's pitchers, is this the best group since you've been at UCSD?
ST. JOHN: Definitely, and I'll just rattle off a couple reasons why. More than ever, we have a confidence on the pitching staff that each guy is going to do his job when he gets on the mound. We have a lot of depth, which gives the coaches plenty of options as to which guy to put on the mound in a given situation. We have a good group of older guys (too many to name), who have been around the program and college baseball in general, for awhile and they have done a great job helping our very promising younger pitchers learn what it takes to be good at this level and in this program. Finally, there have been several guys who have made big improvements since last year or over the past couple years, like Elias Tuma, Eric Abraham, and Danny Simmons -- they all have stepped up huge for us and are making big contributions to our success.
Q: Over the past several years, UCSD has been among the best defensive teams in the nation and this year's club has a .380 team batting average. Do those factors make the pitchers better?
ST. JOHN: I can't tell you how much our position players in this program make our jobs as pitchers easier. We have always been a great defensive team and that gives us confidence that if we let hitters put the ball in play, we can trust that plays will be made. I don't look forward to the day that I might have to pitch without guys like Vance Albitz (shortstop) behind me. He almost always makes the routine plays and makes the tough plays look routine.
I would argue we have also been a very good offensive team in the years I have been here, but this year has been almost unreal. With the number of runs the hitters are putting up, it takes a lot of the pressure of keeping games close off of us. You know things are going well when we, as pitchers, are talking a lot about what our mentalities and approaches should be when pitching with a big lead.
Q: The team is 24-3 at this point and No. 1 in the most recent national D-II poll. How important are statistics and rankings to this team?
ST. JOHN: As a team, we certainly are enjoying the fact that our record is what it is and that we have been voted as one of the best teams in the country all year, but we also always strive to keep in perspective that statistics, both team and individual, don't really mean a whole lot when compared to the overall goal of winning a national championship. We try to keep in mind that, even in the position we are right now, we have a lot to improve on and a lot more to accomplish before we get too happy about what we have achieved so far. We are very process -- as opposed to result -- oriented.
Q: Talk about last year's trip to the Division II College World Series. What do you remember most? How has that result affected this year's team? What will it take to get back to the World Series this year?
ST. JOHN: I'll try not to get to long-winded because the World Series was such an amazing experience and I could talk for hours about it. The facility in Cary, N.C. was, by far, the best I have ever played at, and the feeling of playing on a national stage was something that I have always dreamt of my entire life.
Unfortunately, the thing I remember most is the feeling we all had when we lost on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to Emporia State to get eliminated from the tournament. It took a good couple of days, or weeks, to get over the shock of that moment, but it has definitely fueled our team this year.
Our returning players want nothing more and nothing less than to get back there and win it all -- and the new players have caught on to that passion and are working just as hard every day. To get back to the World Series and win it this year, we will have to focus on each day as an opportunity to get better, continue to outwork other teams, maintain and strengthen our strong team chemistry, use the experience we gained from last year, and continue to trust our abilities.
Q: What is the biggest difference in the UCSD Baseball program from the time you stepped on campus until today?
ST. JOHN: When I first got to UCSD, I think that the baseball program was really good and capable of being one of the best in the country, but we didn't fully know or believe it yet. Today, I feel that having had a lot of success and learning from it over the past couple of seasons has made us aware of how good we are. As a result, I feel that we have developed a sort of culture of excellence that we constantly strive for and that extends to all aspects of the program, from the coaching, to our work in the classroom, to our facility, and to our play or practice on the field. We have come to expect a lot of ourselves, but we now know that we are capable doing these things.
Q: Who do you consider the top three major league pitchers today? Are there any pitchers that you've admired or patterned yourself after?
ST. JOHN: That is really tough to say with so many good ones, but three that I really like to watch are Tim Lincecum (Giants), Zach Greinke (Royals), and Cliff Lee (Mariners). I really admire and try to emulate Cliff Lee's mentality and confidence on the mound (his performance in last year's World Series was incredible), and I have always really appreciated Trevor Hoffman because he is one of the best closers in history, despite losing his fastball pretty early in his career. What makes him so good is his competitive attitude on the mound, and that is something I pride myself on.
Q: What kind of hitter are you? Do you ever have the urge to step into the batter's box? Which of the current UCSD pitchers would you like a shot at?
ST. JOHN: I'm a good hitter... if you lob them over the plate from 45 feet away. The pitchers usually get a couple of chances throughout the year to hit a few rounds of BP as a reward and I pretty much just try to hit home runs. Why not, right?
I think my swing is still pretty good and sometimes I wish I could get just one at bat in a game, but I know that the chances of that are, well, zero. I think I would most like to hit off (Tim) Shibuya because he is pretty accurate and not likely to hit me, and if I did make contact, it would have a better shot at going far because he throws hard. He would probably jam me so bad though that my hands would be stinging for the rest of the day.
Q: As you mentioned, your father played some professional baseball. What are your first baseball memories?
ST. JOHN: Before I could walk, my dad had a foam bat in my hands and he would toss me a foam ball and I would swing, hit it, and laugh. See, I'm a natural hitter. As you can see, I didn't really have a choice about being a baseball player, but I've never felt pressure to play because I have always wanted to. It's always been my number one dream to play in the big leagues.
Some of my first baseball memories are playing baseball on the street in front of my house with a tennis ball and some of the local kids. My dad would teach us all to play, but we had to stop when we got too big and started losing all the balls into peoples' back yards.
Q: You've listed aviation as one of your interests? Have you ever flown a plane?
ST. JOHN: I have always loved airplanes and flying. I used to play fight simulators on the computer a lot when I was younger, and when I turned sixteen and was old enough to take lessons, I did. I ended up logging about 10 hours of flight time, but I had to stop right before my first solo flight because I ran out of money.
Flying is still one of my passions, but it is on the back burner for now until I figure out how to pay for more lessons. It's funny though because some of the guys on the team ask what kind of planes are flying over the field from Miramar while we are practicing, and it's always the same answers: an F-18 or a C-130.
Q: You're from Santa Cruz and also list surfing as one of your hobbies. What do you consider the best surf spot in San Diego? Scariest surfing experience? Have you ever surfed Mavericks?
ST. JOHN: Other than baseball, surfing is my favorite thing to do. It relaxes me more than anything and I always feel good about life in general when I get out of the water. I haven't had much of a chance to really explore all the surf spots San Diego has to offer because baseball keeps me so busy, but Blacks is right down the street from campus and is consistently considered to be one of the best breaks in all of California. I also really like Windansea and Cardiff Reef.
I can't remember one particularly scary experience, but there have been many times up in Santa Cruz during big winter swells where I have gotten caught inside during eight to ten foot sets and pummeled by wave after wave, often times getting held under for several seconds, and then coming up with an intense brain freeze because the water is so cold, only to see another wave about to break on my head. Really relaxing, right? Mavericks? No, I have not surfed there and never plan to. I value my life too much. I'll stick to watching it in movies and from the cliffs in awe.
Q: Are you on schedule to graduate? If so, what's the next step?
ST. JOHN: I'm gonna be graduating at the end of next fall because I will have a few more units to get done after this year. After graduation, I am hoping to enroll in the Sports Management MBA program at SDSU, which would open a lot of doors for working in the sports industry. Eventually, I would really like to get an executive job with a sports franchise like the San Jose Sharks or San Diego Padres. If I don't end up playing professional sports, I definitely want to work around them.
Q: What would the perfect ending for your collegiate career look like?
Previous Q & A Articles
ST. JOHN: Dogpiling with the guys at the USA National Training Complex in Cary after winning the NCAA Division II National Championship. I can't wait.
Dan Perdew (Men's Swimming) February 28, 2010
Ross (Men's Volleyball) February 20, 2010
Nicole Saari (Softball) February 4, 2010
Brad Kreutzkamp (Women's Water Polo Head Coach) January 18, 2010
Tyler Acevedo (Men's Basketball) January 4, 2010
Dr. Cliff Kubiak (UCSD's Faculty Athletic Rep) December 18, 2009
Chelsea Carlisle (Women's Basketball) December 9, 2009
Carianne Cunningham (Women's Swimming) November 23, 2009
Elena Inouye (Cross Country) November 6, 2009
David Morton (Men's Water Polo) October 28, 2009
Juan Pablo Carillo (Men's Swimming) October 19, 2009
Sara Spaventa (Women's Soccer) October 10, 2009
Karen Reis (Women's Volleyball) October 2, 2009
Daniel Pavitt (Men's Soccer) September 23, 2009
Daniel Anderson (Cross Country) September 11, 2009
Peter Gresham (Men's Water Polo) September 2, 2009
Alexia Zatarain (Women's Soccer) August 24, 2009
Elaine Chen (Women's Volleyball) August 12, 2009
Jared Kukura (Men's Soccer) July 30, 2009
Dawn Lee (Former Women's Soccer Standout) July 8, 2009
Rob Mamula (Director of Athletic Performance) June 18, 2009
Garrett Imeson (Baseball) June 8, 2009
Leon Baham (Men's Track & Field) May 21, 2009
Kristyn Lesovsky (Softball) May 8, 2009
Kazumi Negishi (Men's Tennis) May 5, 2009
Laiah Blue (Women's Track & Field) April 16, 2009
Ryan Andre (Men's Crew) April 2, 2009
Josh Tanner (Baseball) March 24, 2009
Anju Shimura (Women's Swimming) March 7, 2009
Stephanie Bocian (Women's Water Polo) February 20, 2009
Lauren Chastain (Softball) February 5, 2009
A.J. Maulhardt (Men's Basketball) January 28, 2009
Annette Ilg (Women's Basketball) January 22, 2009
Steven Hardy (Men's Swimming) January 13, 2009
Frank Fritsch (Men's Volleyball) January 5, 2009