Mike Reuvekamp could not believe what he was hearing.
As he stood on the Delta Junior College baseball diamond in the summer of 2008, the catcher/shortstop was speaking to close friend and backup catcher Scott David. Exhausted from playing a full summer league game, Reuvekamp was trying to follow David’s excited gestures and conversation.
David had just been offered a scholarship to play Division I baseball at Fresno State.
Reuvekamp had known the recruiters were in the stands, but he had been holding on to the slim hope they had been there for him. But they had been there for David, the player who started one game a week to Reuvekamp’s four. His backup, his second on the depth chart, his friend, had somehow caught the eye of the recruiters while not having played a single minute in the game that day.
Reuvekamp was happy for his friend, but inside, all that remained was a twinge of jealousy. Years later, he realized something that he hadn’t that one summer day — something that has come to define Reuvekamp’s career.
“David was a big guy, and the colleges look at physical attributes,” Reuvekamp says. “You can teach [David] how to play baseball, but you can’t teach [me] how to be big.”
“I didn’t have any measurable physical tools for them to say, ‘Wow, this kid is really good at this.’”
Currently standing at 5-foot-9 and weighing in at 170 pounds, Reuvekamp is and has always been undersized for a player of his position. According to Fangraphs, he would be shorter than 93 percent of MLB players who played from 1980 to 2011. But his underwhelming physical attributes did not deter him from trying to reach the upper echelon of the baseball world.
In eighth grade, he tried out for NorCal Baseball, an organization in the Bay Area for up-and-coming stars. Reuvekamp says that at the tryout, the organizers handed out black jerseys to athletes they were seriously considering and white jerseys to kids just there to participate.
Reuvekamp got a white jersey.
Ignoring the blatant slight, Reuvekamp put together an outing he thought was enough to garner some attention. At the end of the day, the coaches lined up the players and called out names of the guys they want to stick around and have a second tryout. As the last name rang out over the diamond, Reuvekamp’s name hadn’t been called.
“I was pissed,” Reuvekamp says. “That hurt. But that’s when I discovered I was going to get overlooked a lot. After I attended those camps, the writing was on the wall that there was no way I was going to get recruited.”
When Reuvekamp attended Mira Monte High School, he was placed on the freshman team, weighing in at a paltry 110 pounds. By the time Reuvekamp made the jump to varsity, his friends had already started to make a name for themselves in recruiting circles. He had a lot of ground to make up.
So Reuvekamp started attending baseball showcases, events put on by recruiters to find young talent. But the small catcher and newly converted shortstop was out of his league. The scouts wanted to see Reuvekamp hit the ball far, but he lacked the power. They wanted to see him run the bases, but he wasn’t that fast. They wanted to see him field ground balls at his newly adopted shortstop position, but he botched almost every one.
In 2009, at a showcase, Reuvekamp was running down the first base line trying to leg out an infield single. The throw took the first baseman off the bag, forcing the defender to attempt the tag. Reuvekamp did the only thing he could: He dove underneath the tag.
The play was not lost on Mike Neu, head coach of the Diablo Valley College baseball program, a community college in Pleasant Hill and a member of the Big Eight Conference of two-year programs.
“He was just playing at a higher gear than everybody,” Neu says. “He was the type of player I wanted on my team because he had a toughness inside that allowed him to play bigger than his body.”
After the showcase, Reuvekamp was ready to leave when Neu approached him. He wanted Reuvekamp to come check out DVC.
“It was the first time that somebody who wasn’t my family or my girlfriend actually believed in my baseball ability,” Reuvekamp says.
But in the ninth game of his freshman season at DVC, he dislocated his shoulder diving for a pop-up. The worst part: He was four innings over the maximum playing time to receive his medical redshirt.
It was a grueling road back, and Reuvekamp was not ready by the start of his sophomore year. He elected to redshirt, beginning to lose hope of ever reaching the Division I level.
After finally recovering from his injury, Reuvekamp had one more year to get noticed. Time was running out, but then, an opportunity dropped right in his lap.
In 2011, Neu was hired as the Cal baseball team’s pitching coach. Reuvekamp was devastated. The main reason Reuvekamp had signed with DVC was leaving.
But Neu surprised Reuvekamp and told him he wanted Reuvekamp to come with him to Cal. The Bears were in need of players, and Neu had thought of Reuvekamp, who could possibly act as a bullpen catcher or shortstop because he played both positions.
“He had to battle his way up because we had some recruits that were profiled to be a starting shortstop and catcher,” Neu says. “We were not expecting him to be anything more than a backup player that could just fill a role.”
As a sophomore in 2012, Reuvekamp had trouble finding the field — until that fateful Stanford game in May 2012.
In the extra-inning affair, Cal head coach David Esquer was running out of options and decided to go with Reuvekamp late in the game. Esquer told him to lean in and get hit by a pitch. Reuvekamp would fail to produce, registering an out.
But in his next at-bat, on a 3-1 count in the top of the 18th, Reuvekamp crushed a single right down the middle.
After reaching second on a sac bunt, Reuvekamp was in a position to score the go-ahead run. Tony Renda hit a grounder up the middle, and Reuvekamp was off to the races. Ahead of him, he saw the third base coach waving him home. Reuvekamp slid into home, scoring the eventual winning run.
Reuvekamp tripped on his way back to the dugout, but nothing could ruin the moment.
“It was a blur; everybody was going crazy,” Reuvekamp says. “That’s when I truly felt I was playing baseball for Cal. Everything came together in that moment.”
Two seasons later, Reuvekamp is the starting shortstop for the Bears. In 2013, he hit for a .283 average and an impressive .320 average in Pac-12 play. Through 16 games played this year, Reuvekamp is struggling, hitting only .195, with four errors. Still, it was just three years ago that he was on Diablo Valley College’s roster. Today, he’s the starting shortstop on a Division I baseball team.
“All the experiences I had made me the player I am today,” Reuvekamp says. “It was the price I had to pay to end up at my dream school. I paid the price for four years to have this moment now.”
Austin Crochetiere covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].