College baseball: Menlo’s Gemgnani blasts his way into history
In 1998, Nike came out with the ad campaign “Chicks dig the long ball” featuring Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Mark McGwire.
Flash forward to today, and baseball fans at Menlo College can’t get enough of Garrett Gemgnani at the plate. The 6-foot, 195-pound slugger broke the program record for home runs two weeks ago with his 17th dinger, surpassing the mark set by former teammate Daniel Comstock last year.
“I was very aware of where I stood in terms of that record,” Gemgnani said. “And when I hit the 17th home run, it felt really good rounding the bases knowing that I had just done that. And then when I spoke to (Comstock) later that day, he told me that he wouldn’t want anyone else to have broken it. So it was a very cool moment, and he had supported me the whole way.”
It was hard to foresee such success from the first baseman after his junior season. A transfer from Monterey Peninsula College, he won the triple crown as a sophomore by leading the team in average, home runs and RBI.
But in what he deemed a necessary step back in his development, Gemgnani hit .218 with only two home runs last year with the Oaks.
“It was pretty difficult,” he said. “It was tough to swallow and it was tough to push through, wondering when I was going to be in the lineup after having the opportunity to be in the lineup every day.”
Motivated to transform himself over the summer, Gemgnani worked tirelessly with Menlo hitting coach Jason Ochart.
“I spent many, many, many hours in the batting cages,” said Gemgnani, who watched a lot of film of Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista while revamping his swing. “Sometimes not even hitting, just being there. I’m a cage rat.”
“I think that the tools have always been there,” Menlo coach Jake McKinley said. “But I think that the amount of time that Garrett put in this summer allowed him to maybe be a little more confident or have more of a presence at the plate. I think that he’s obviously a pretty feared hitter by opponents now, and I wouldn’t say that was necessarily the case a year ago.”
It’s also helped that Menlo established a sports performance department over the summer, instilling a different philosophy during workout sessions.
“They still have a power-lifting aspect in them, but they’re very focused on explosiveness, mobility, flexibility,” Gemgnani said. “And I think that’s contributed to a lot of our guys staying healthy throughout the year, and it’s also contributed to our overall power and success.”
Gemgnani has been a beast at the plate, with a .318 average, the 17 home runs and 50 RBI. His slugging percentage is a stout .716.
That’s close to Barry Bonds proportions at his peak.
“I just focus on hitting the ball as hard as I can,” Gemgnani said. “And seeing my pitch and seeing it well. Trust in my ability to go to all fields and hit the baseball as hard as I can. That’s really as simple as I can make it, and it’s really benefited me.”
He also has more walks than strikeouts, which is important because pitchers have taken notice of his metamorphosis.
“They are dancing around me a lot more, and I’m starting to see a lot more off-speed (pitches), which is fine,” Gemgnani said. “Their approach has definitely changed as the season has progressed.”
Menlo (29-18) has two weeks left in the regular season. Those are six games in which Gemgnani can extend his home run record, but don’t expect to see him swing for the fences.
“I mean, the old saying is that a home run is just a line drive mishit,” said Gemgnani, who hopes to get taken in June’s MLB Draft, much like Comstock went in the 18th round last year — the fourth member of the Oaks selected in five seasons. “You’ve got to not focus on trying to hit home runs because they never really happen when you do.”
[via Mercury News]