The 2017 Arizona Wildcats are chock-full of players that have a previous relationship with head coach Jay Johnson in some way.
No one has a more direct history with Arizona’s head man than junior college transfer outfielder Cal Stevenson though.
Stevenson was a freshman on Johnson’s 2015 Nevada team that finished the season with a 41-15 overall record, and went 22-7 in the Mountain West.
However, after winning the MW’s Regular Season Championship, the Wolf Pack went two-and-que in the conference’s postseason tournament, losing to Cory Voss’ New Mexico squad, and then San Diego State. They were not selected for NCAA Regional play that year despite winning more than 40 games.
“It was very tough,” Stevenson said this past week about not making the NCAA Tournament in 2015. “We had a great team at Nevada that year. It was tough for us to see that we weren’t going to make it to a regional because we had a lot of seniors that expected to get there. Obviously we didn’t expect to go two games and out in the Mountain West Tournament, so it was very tough.”
Only losing 15 times over the course of a college baseball season is something that not a lot of players get to experience in their lifetime.
“No, I’ve never experienced that,” Stevenson explained. “It hurt a lot, because like I said, we had a bunch of seniors who probably weren’t going to play baseball again, or some that were going on to professional baseball that never made a regional. We won a lot of games, and we didn’t lose much, and I think the fact that we didn’t get a chance to go to a regional didn’t get to show the kind of team we had.”
Moving into the Pac-12 after a year at the junior college level will give Stevenson a better opportunity to have an idea of what postseason college baseball tastes like.
“That’s why I wanted to be here as well,” he added about why he chose Arizona. “I’m not saying it’s going to be easier, but you don’t have to do as much to get into a regional, and that’s something I always wanted to do as a kid is get to a regional, and play in one of those types of games.”
In 2015, Stevenson hit .359 and was named Mountain West Co-Freshman of the Year with Voss, his now-teammate at Arizona.
“He had such a good season two years ago,” Johnson explained of Stevenson’s freshman year at Nevada. “Very rarely have I seen a freshman impact a team that much, which was great.”
Coming to Tucson as a junior, it’s likely that Stevenson will start in just about every game in the Arizona outfield, possibly in center depending on how that situation between him and Jared Oliva works out.
Stevenson has been hitting the ball out of Hi Corbett in practice, making himself a power threat as well as providing speed on the bases.
“He’s stronger, the ball comes off the bat better,” added Johnson about what’s changed with Stevenson since that 2015 season. “I’ve always thought he’s had a good awareness of the type of player he is, knowing the strike zone, and his ability to really impact the game when he gets on base and be disruptive. And defensively he’s a special player out there too.”
“He’s absolutely the same,” Stevenson said about what Johnson is like now compared to two years ago. “He coaches the same, he brings the same attitude in practice and in the games, and he’s just a competitor and that’s how he is every day.”
“It’s just maturing,” continued Stevenson when reflecting personally on how he’s changed. “Coming into Nevada as a freshman, I didn’t like to make mistakes, and I think as college went on, I realized mistakes were gonna happen. What you do after those mistakes is really going to build on what type of player you’re going to be, and that’s something that him and I talked about back at Nevada, and that’s something I really took serious.”
Stevenson and the rest of the Wildcats begin the 2017 season Friday night when they host Eastern Kentucky to start a four-game series.