As one of the few "veterans" on a young UC San Diego Baseball team, junior centerfielder Danny Susdorf has had to step into a leadership role in 2012. After leading the 42-15 CCAA champion Tritons in both hits (87) and average (.385) as a sophomore, the Newhall native was first team all-conference and first team All-West Region. Over the summer he played ball in the Northwoods League where he gained a slice of celebrity by getting featured on ESPN's SportsCenter. Back at UCSD in 2012, he's continued to put up solid numbers, hitting .302 with a UCSD best .397 on-base percentage. "Danny does an incredible job of competing and he's a real sparkplug on our team, a good role model for our younger players," said first-year Head Coach Eric Newman. "He's a really good hitter, uses his speed well, is tough to strike out and just plays the game hard." With the Tritons working to push their way into the top end of the CCAA standings, Susdorf took time to discuss his turn in the limelight, baseball at UCSD and the team's changeover at the helm.
Q-Did you ever imagine you would be featured in a play of the day on SportsCenter, at No. 1 no less?
SUSDORF-After the play, the first thing I yelled to my teammates was '"that was the best play of my entire life." But no, I did not think there was a chance in the world that play would be on SportsCenter. Normally you only see professional athletes on SportsCenters Top Ten, so I consider myself very lucky to even be nominated to be on SportsCenter let alone being the No. 1 play.
Q-What kind of notoriety did you get after that aired? Did you have any idea it would turn into a big deal when you made the play?
SUSDORF-For a couple of weeks, yeah, I got a little popular amongst the Woodchucks' fans. But overall the town of Wasau treated us all like celebrities so it was a pretty surreal experience. After it happened, getting to know the Wasau fans, yes, I thought it would be kind of a big deal just because they were pretty devoted.
Q-What was the strangest thing you experienced after it happened?
SUSDORF-One of the funniest things was when a kid came up to Justin Burns at the gym asking if he was the player that made the play, then asked Justin if he could get my autograph for him.
Q-The Northwoods League is recognized as one of the best in the country. How did your summer there help develop your game?
SUSDORF-Going into it I knew I was one of the better players in Division II, but I've always had that subconscious doubt that I would be able to hang with the big Division I players. It really just gave me the confidence that I could play with the best and excel in one of the tougher leagues. My mental game developed by far the most, because you don't have any time to dwell on past failures-you play nearly everyday. So I really matured mentally, not dwelling on past at bats and past games. I just put it past me and go to the next pitch.
Q-Did you ever get any grief for being on the "Wisconsin Woodchucks?"
SUSDORF-Sooooooo much grief. Every time we played away and something good happened for our team, the announcing booth would play "hey woodchucks stop chucking my wood" from the Geico commercial. And at some of the opposing ballparks there are beer gardens in left field where I was playing and I got worn out by the opposing fans.
Q-When you came back, there were obviously changes at UC San Diego with the arrival of new Head Coach Eric Newman and an entirely revamped staff. Change is rarely easy, but what have been some of the positives associated with the new environment?
SUSDORF-The experience and knowledge the coaching staff has is incredible. We have some of the best coaches and people anyone could ask for. We have major leaguers, minor leaguers and great college players on our coaching staff, so that knowledge is definitely helpful.
Q-What, if anything do Coach Newman and former coach, Dan O'Brien, have in common?
SUSDORF-The fire they both bring to the table. DOB had this passion that is indescribable and fired me up, really got the best out of me and Coach Newman has that same sort of passion in a different way. They both also want to help us grow on and off the field. DOB last year really helped me harness my emotions and Coach Newman right now is teaching me how to cope with a new environment and is teaching me how to be an effective team leader.
Q-The UCSD Baseball program has compiled a 137-38 record over the past three seasons with three consecutive CCAA regular season and conference titles. After graduating a slew of players each of the last two years, the 2012 squad is comparatively young and inexperienced. How would you describe the character and personality of the current group?
SUSDORF-Yes, we are young and yes, we are inexperienced, but I believe that's a good thing. Yes, the last couple of years we have been a successful team, but we have always ended with a loss. I believe as a team we haven't found our team's identity yet but we are creating it slowly.
Starting off with Chico State and Cal Poly Pomona, two very good teams, and splitting with them when we haven't reached our potential is a very good sign. Our team's character is something I can't describe yet because is being molded right now, but I promise at the end when we have established our collective identity, it will be a team that grinds every pitch and won't back down from adversity.
Q-Clearly, you are one of the prominent offensive pieces in the lineup but, although still a junior, you're also one of the veterans expected to be a leader. How comfortable are you in that role and have you changed the way you go about things now?
SUSDORF-I am very comfortable with the role I have been given, in that I am going to be the first on the field and the last to leave unless I have a Structural Analysis class, ha ha. But I've tried to model myself after the way Vance Albitz (shortstop 2010) went about his business two years ago. He would lead by example and only say things when they needed to be said. No, I still go about my business the same as I have done in the previous years. I do talk up more in team meetings and let teammates inside my head about the things I think about whether I'm at the plate or in the outfield. But other than that, like I said, I try to be a quiet leader unless something needs to be said.
Q-How would you evaluate the team's pre-season and early conference play? What do you think this year's club is capable of?
SUSDORF-The pre-season and early conference play has been just right. We are still trying to figure out what our team's identity is going to be. But, like I said, we split with some pretty good teams not playing our best baseball. I believe this team has the potential to get back to Cary and make a run at a World Series title. Anything can happen in playoffs. Right now we just need to take advantage of every practice and work on things to get better for the next weekend.
Q-How would you describe your own playing style?
SUSDORF-My playing style is very fiery. I love playing baseball with emotion and I think it inspires the entire team to play its best caliber of baseball. When I'm excited you're probably going to notice. I like to think I'm a great person to be on a team with, but if you're on the opposing team you're probably going to hate me with a passion.
Q-When did you start playing baseball and what is your fondest memory of your playing days as a youngster?
SUSDORF-I always looked up to my brothers and wanted to be just like them. They both played baseball so naturally I began playing baseball at the young age of four. The best memories of playing baseball were anytime I got to go see one of my brothers' college games or hit with them and my dad in the cage in the backyard-or just about do anything baseball-related with them.
Q-What other sports did you play before settling on baseball only? If you were pitted against all other players on the Baseball team, what one sport or game do you think you could "dominate?"
SUSDORF-I played soccer and ran cross country for a little bit while I was growing up. I know that I would definitely dominate all of my teammates in soccer. It wouldn't be fair.
Q-With all of the new faces on the roster, who are one or two that have stood out to you early as players UCSD fans should be excited to watch?
SUSDORF-I think the fans should be excited to see pitcher Trevor Scott and catcher Brian Choi. Trevor has a certain intensity and fire that I love to play behind. I know that he's going to give it his all every single pitch. I believe Brian is going to develop into a real offensive threat. He has the ability to hit the long ball while at the same time being solid behind the plate.
Q-Who are your favorite players in the Major Leagues today and is there anyone you tried to model your game after when you were younger?
SUSDORF-Chase Utley and Andre Ethier are by far my favorite players. I love how they go about the game of baseball. You can just tell that they are two of the hardest working players in the game, especially Chase. Chase just seems like a quality guy both on and off the field. When they're both on the field you know they're going to give it their all every pitch.
Q-What's the most difficult thing about playing center field?
SUSDORF-Adjusting the outfield to every hitter and the pitch count. (Justin) Rahn, (Scott) Liske, (Gregg) Ringold, and (James) Mossholder probably find me very annoying, like a nagging mom, because I'm just pointing out the obvious, but the one time they forget I think they'll be thankful that I'm persistent. Also, it's one of the more important defensive positions so I can't space out as much as I would like to. I have to be locked in for every pitch and have to keep track of two other positions making sure that they're in the right spot and know what they should do with the ball depending on the situation.
Q-You're a structural engineering major. How many of those do you think there are in college baseball? What drew you to that field of study? Have you discovered any connection between your major and your sport?
SUSDORF-I would be surprised if there are 10 structural engineers in baseball. I drew upon that field because I've always been pretty solid at both math and physics, and one of my brothers chose that major when he went into college. We have pretty similar personalities, so I thought it would suit me well. No, I haven't discovered any connections between my major and my sport-they are pretty much polar opposites.
Q-What are your long term plans-both with baseball and post-playing career?
SUSDORF-I would like to have the chance to play in the minor leagues so I never have any regrets. But I could definitely see myself as an offensive threat in a softball Sunday beer league.
Q-When you're not playing baseball or studying, how do you like to spend your time? What's the most unusual hobby you have?
SUSDORF-Free time for me happens once in a blue moon. But when it does happen, which is like once a month, I normally like to just hang out with my friends.
Q-What are three words that best describe the experience of being a college athlete?SUSDORF-Brotherhood, competitive and faith
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