July 9, 2011
It's been the year of living restlessly for Brett Vertigan.
The baseball transfer from Saddleback College learned a hard lesson from Albert Einstein when he found that he was one lab short of athletic eligibility at UCSB:
"When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second," Einstein once said. "When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That's relativity."
And the bench where Vertigan sat last spring felt like a blow torch.
"Baseball's my love and it sucked to just watch every day," the red-shirt centerfielder said. "I wanted to be out there playing, so it hurt."
It hurt literally. He made use of his idle season by undergoing surgery in March for a hernia that had plagued him for a year and a half.
"They said it could've gotten serious if I'd just let it go," Vertigan said. "It was actually the second time I've had that surgery ... I had it the season before for another one on the other side."
But now it's those who pitch against the Santa Barbara Foresters who feel the pain. Vertigan is batting .378 with a team-high 31 hits and nine stolen bases as the new leadoff batter for the California Collegiate League power.
"This is like my season right now," he said. "I've been itching to play for so long, so I made sure that I was prepared.
"I'm just staying focused and trying not to get distracted by the other things of summer — just work hard all the time and stay locked in."
Vertigan had Foresters manager Bill Pintard at hello, blasting a home run in the team's first at-bat of the season.
"I'm becoming a big fan of his," Pintard said. "He plays a lot bigger than he is. The home runs, the bunting, the stealing bases.
"The other day he got hit by a pitch in the leg but still played hurt. I really admire this guy."
Vertigan's first-game homer came against the San Diego Waves on only the second pitch he saw.
"I was nervous and thinking, 'Please don't strike out!' " he said.
He has almost as many homers (three) as strike outs (four) this season in 96 plate appearances.
He's already fit in well with the other Gauchos including Joe Wallace, his UCSB roommate and fellow outfielder with the Foresters.
"He has a good heart and he's a great guy, so it was pretty easy having him move in," Wallace said. "I think he'll be great for the team, too.
"You can see what he brings to the table, he's so fast. He's lefthanded, he has great speed and he swings the bat really well."
His other set of wheels, however, have become the butt of the Gauchos' jokes.
"When he first showed up to Santa Barbara he was riding this funny-looking, dorky little bicycle," Wallace said. "We asked him, 'So what's up with your bike?' And he was like, 'Oh, it's a Gary Fisher bike ... it's my mom's.' So from then on, his nickname has been Gary.
"I think he kind of wishes the name would go away, but that one's a keeper with the Gauchos."
Vertigan is a keeper for Pintard, who coveted him even last summer when he was leading off for the league rival MLB Academy Barons.
"We saw him play and said, 'Boy, we want that guy!' " Pintard said. "He's a leadoff guy. He goes and gets it in the outfield. He shows up ready to play every day.
"We had a guy last year (Nick Melino) who wasn't a true leadoff guy. He wasn't fast, although he was our MVP and did a great job. But he was a 3-to-5 guy in the leadoff spot."
Vertigan took the Barons down memory lane when his homer helped beat them 3-2 in Thursday's opener of the Rawlings California Cup. The Foresters, 21-8 entering Friday's game, are 12-0 when Vertigan and Jeff McNeil are at the top of the lineup.
"They can both run and wreak havoc on the other team," Pintard said. "It's hard for me to take Vertigan out of the lineup, but I have to at times. I have to get other guys at bats."
Vertigan, who led Saddleback with a .332 average, was pointed toward UCSB by former Gaucho star Skip Schumaker, who now plays for the St. Louis Cardinals.
"He always works out at Saddleback because he lives around there," he said. "He told me that this was a great school and he really helped influence my decision.
"I watched him hit a lot and worked with him a bit. He gave me some pointers and I definitely look up to him. He's a great guy."
Vertigan, who was recruited to UCSB by Bob Brontsema and Tom Myers, will find a new set of coaches when he returns to school in the fall. He met Andrew Checketts at his press conference only last month, although he's gotten a full scouting report on the Gauchos' new head coach.
"I really like his style of coaching," he said. "I heard he's the No. 1 pitching coach in the United States, so I'm glad we have him."
Vertigan also heard that Checketts plans to bring in a lot of new players to fill several holes on the team.
"We only have five pitchers coming back and five or six position players, so we can't even run intrasquads right now," he said. "With a new coach and new players coming in, centerfield is definitely not mine. I'm going to have to fight for it."
Checketts has received a favorable scouting report.
"I called Coach Checketts and I said, 'Well, there's one thing you're not going to have to worry about — you're not going to have to worry about your leadoff hole or your centerfielder, because this guy can play,' " Pintard said. "He told me, 'Oh good!'"
Vertigan is counting on nothing, however.
"It's OK, because I'm pretty used to having things left up in the air," he said.
It beats sitting, anyway.
Mark Patton's column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org