As the Oregon baseball season was approaching, there was a great deal of excitement surrounding freshman Matt Krook. Though the left-handed pitcher from San Mateo, Calif. was the 35th pick in the MLB draft, he elected to attend Oregon. Krook has certainly lived up to the hype through his first two starts, but he isn’t the only freshman who has quickly made an impact for Oregon.
Freshman catcher Jack Kruger and first-year outfielders Austin Grebeck and A.J. Balta all hail from Southern California, having connections with each other before coming to Eugene. Kruger and Balta have played on travel teams together since they were 10 years old and Grebeck also played with Balta during scout ball and at various showcases.
After the first two weeks, the three newcomers have already played a huge role. Assistant coach Mark Wasikowski called Kruger “the player of the game” for the first game of the series against Hawaii due to his receiving and pitch-blocking. Balta and Grebeck each had key RBI hits that broke the game open for Oregon the following night and Grebeck scored the game-winning run of Sunday’s 4-3 win against Loyola Marymount.
“The freshmen have been stepping up great,” senior outfielder Tyler Baumgartner said. “It almost seems like they’ve already been here for a year. They just didn’t miss a step.”
Balta has emerged as Oregon’s starting left fielder and Grebeck has been a valuable bat off the bench. Kruger has split time behind the plate with junior Shaun Chase and sophomore Josh Graham and has expressed how valuable it has been to learn from and work with them.
“I would not be where I am today or even have the chance to play without the help of Shaun and Josh,” Kruger said. “It’s really cool ’cause we’re a really tight-knit group of guys and we enjoy hanging out together and we really want each other to succeed.”
All three first-year players stressed the significance of the leadership of the upperclassmen and the values that they have fostered.
“If you were doing something wrong, they’re going to let you know and get you back on track,” Grebeck said. “That’s what’s really helped this team get as far along as we think we are.”
Kruger agrees, adding that working together is an integral part of the game.
“The whole idea is that we’re one team and we’re all trying to get better,” he said. “By making you better, I’m making myself better because you’re going to push me and it just goes back and forth. It’s a really, really cool vibe that I don’t think a lot of teams have.”
The freshmen have the added benefit of being a part of the team throughout the fall and winter terms, having played fall ball and becoming accustomed to PK Park. With the inclusive team environment that resonates throughout the team, it’s no surprise that the newcomers have been able to contribute out of the gate.
“With everyone pulling for you, it makes it that much easier for success to be able to happen,” Balta said. “Everyone is just treating us like a brotherhood so the freshmen class just fits in with everyone else.”
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