April 26, 2012
WASHINGTON - Four weeks remain in the BIG EAST regular season and the Georgetown baseball team enters the final month of play with a chance to make the conference tournament, something that hasn't been done in 25 years.
That's a goal that is not lost on anyone on this team, least of all redshirt junior shortstop Mike Garza (San Antonio, Texas/Douglas MacArthur). When the BIG EAST Conference started its postseason tournament, the Hoyas made the first two, in 1985 and 1986, respectively.
Making the league tournament is one of the team's goals every year, but Garza and his teammates entered the 2012 season thinking that this could be the year. "I think coming in, Andy (Lentz, senior second baseman) and I sat down and talked, and that was one of our goals this year - to be the first team to make it to the tournament in two decades," Garza said. "I think that would be huge. It gets things going in the right direction."
The Hoyas enter this weekend's crucial BIG EAST series at Pittsburgh with an 18-22 overall record and a 5-10 mark in the BIG EAST. They are just one half game out of the eighth, and final spot, for the BIG EAST Tournament. They have been led this season by their second-year shortstop, Garza, who transferred to the Hilltop after spending his freshman year at Stanford.
After a stellar sophomore year, Garza has picked up where he left off last season. He leads the team in batting average, and ranks fourth in the BIG EAST, at .373 and is tied for third in total bases (93), fourth in the league in hits (60), fifth in doubles (14) and fifth in slugging percentage (.578).
"It has felt good (this season)," Garza said. "I think you go through streaks where you get in the box and you're seeing the ball well and feeling good. This year, I've been more on the positive side than the other side."
He was more on the positive side in 2011 as well, transitioning quickly from national power Stanford, where he was a reserve as a freshman, to the Hoyas, where he sat out the 2010 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
"It was a bit tough last year, just getting adjusted," Garza admitted. "The tough part is the scheduling of things. You play summer ball, you play every day and you're on a set routine. Work in the morning, stuff like that. And when you get back to school, you've got class and work and balancing schedules and that is always a challenge. That might have been the biggest adjustment."
And while it may have been an adjustment, it didn't show all that much for Garza, who finished his first season batting .306 and was second on the team in hits (67) and total bases (92), fourth in doubles (13), second in runs scored (44) and fifth in slugging percentage (.420).
That carried over to the summer, where Garza played for the Harwich Mariners in the famed Cape Cod Summer League. Switching to a wood bat, Garza finished the regular season batting .254 with 11 doubles, one home run, 18 runs scored and 15 RBI, but hit nearly .300 during the first two rounds of the playoffs and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Cape Cod League Championship Series.
"I think it helped a lot," Garza said of his experience on the Cape. "I worked with a lot of great coaches. Mentally, I think it was huge. You learn how to deal with failure a little better and how to prepare, how to move from one at bat to the next, one pitch to the next. Physically, you're basically practicing every day before a game with batting practice and getting out there and doing defensive work.
"You're playing with some of the best guys in the country. You learn from those guys, you take a little bit from their routines and the routines the coaches have. If you come in with an open mind, you come out learning a lot and implementing a lot into your own stuff."
Meanwhile, his play the last two years on the Hilltop for the Hoyas has certainly opened the eyes of Major League Baseball scouts. And while the chance to pursue a professional career is something that Garza has always dreamed of, he does not lose focus on where he is right now.
"You have to push it in the back of your mind, but at the same time you can't," he said. "There are certain things you have to think about and take care of after games, during the week. But once you get out there, you just play. You play the way you play the game. You can't really worry about who's watching or what they're going to think of you if you make an error or don't get a hit."
There are a lot of things on Garza's mind, between the current Georgetown baseball season and the upcoming draft, but he is also finishing up his degree, graduating next month with a double major in government and classics.
"It does mean a lot to me and it will mean a lot, but I know it means lot more to my parents," he said. "I'm first generation (his parents were both born in Cuba) and they both went to college, but to be the first in my family to graduate from college will mean a lot."
Garza's focus right now, however, will be on the next game. This weekend, it's at Pittsburgh. Next weekend, it's at home against Seton Hall. And game by game, it's a chance for him and his teammates to make their mark at Georgetown.
"That was one of my personal goals, to do anything I could on the field, and off the field, to help us get there (the BIG EAST Tournament)," he said. "We've got plenty of guys that can catapult us forward. There's a really strong commitment from the guys on this team for success. There's a great desire to be one of the teams in Clearwater (Florida, site of the tournament) at the end of the year."