Cal catcher Chadd Krist wanted teammate Dylan Tonneson to do well last season, and it wasn't just because it would help the Bears win some games.
"I wanted him to do well because I didn't want him to be back next year competing with me," Krist said with a laugh.
Krist got his wish. Tonneson was drafted in the 36th round by San Diego last June and gave up his senior year of eligibility by signing with Padres. That paved the way for Krist to take over the Bears' catching duties, and the sophomore has emerged as one of the Pac-10's top hitters in 2010.
Krist enters tonight's Pac-10 opener at Arizona State ranked fourth in batting with a .452 average. He's tied for second in home runs (five) and doubles (10) and is second in total bases (62) and slugging percentage (.849).
Not bad for a guy who didn't receive any scholarship offers from major programs coming out of Petaluma High.
"We wanted him to come here and watch him develop and see where that took him," Cal coach David Esquer said. "Obviously, he's surpassed my expectations, but he's really worked hard, from the weight room to the batting cages to his defense. To see him do well, it's not as much a surprise as much as you love to see someone who works that hard get the payoff so quickly."
With Tonneson and junior college All-American Eddie Hsieh on the roster, Krist wasn't sure how much playing time he would get early in his Cal career. But by the second half of last season, Krist was taking playing time away from Tonneson to firmly establish himself as the catcher of the future. He batted only .197 in 27 games but still impressed the coaching staff with his approach and his superior work behind the plate.
"Last year he received so well that he forced his way into the lineup for some games," Esquer said. "When that happened, we knew we had somebody who was going to be able to play at this level.
"His numbers last year obviously weren't great, but he hit in some tough spots. He showed the ability even with that experience that he was going to be able to hit at this level."
Esquer called Krist the best catcher he's ever had at blocking balls in the dirt. And while it was primarily his defense that earned him playing time initially, it's his work at the plate that has given him staying power.
"I've raised the bar for myself now," Krist said. "Hitting .400 in the Pac-10 would be extremely hard, but I feel that as long as I keep that high expectation for myself, I won't throw any at-bats away or take any at-bats off. It's going to help me stay focused."
Notes: The Sun Devils (20-0) are No. 1 in the Collegiate Baseball poll and No. 3 in the Baseball America poll. Cal is 12-7. The teams play a three-game series.