April 3, 2006
By Chris Jackson
Malibu, Calif. - No one can blame Chad Tracy for switching allegiances this year.
He's still the starting catcher at Pepperdine, a force in the middle of the lineup and the reigning West Coast Conference Player of the Year.
But his allegiance as far as major league teams did have to change.
"I've already got a couple Pirates hats; I'm starting to build my wardrobe," said Tracy, the son of former Dodgers manager Jim Tracy, who resigned in November and was hired by Pittsburgh. "I started to build my wardrobe with lots of blue and white. Now I'm starting to build around lots of black and gold."
Soon enough, Chad Tracy may have to change his wardrobe again, since he projects as a potential first- or second-round pick in the major league draft this June.
Now in his junior year, Tracy has established himself as one of the country's best collegiate catchers, both offensively and defensively.
This season he's batting .353 with five home runs and 25 RBIs to help the 19th-ranked Waves to a 19-11 start and a seven-game winning streak going into conference play, starting today at 2 p.m. at Loyola Marymount.
"It's been everything I expected and more," Tracy said of his career to date. "I never dreamed that it would go as well as it has. I was a good high school player, but I wasn't an unbelievable player. I just came here and worked hard."
While others may have been surprised that a skinny kid from Claremont High could jump into the starting lineup at Pepperdine as a freshman and take off like Tracy did, his father was certainly not one of them.
"No, I'm not surprised," Jim Tracy said. "I'm sure that there were maybe a lot of naysayers or people who wondered as they saw him through high school. Not to say he didn't have ability but the size of the player was a concern. I don't think he weighed 170 pounds at the time he graduated.
"But I had a little bit of an extra benefit of knowledge that they didn't. He's extremely passionate about the game of baseball. He's extremely interested in not only participating in baseball but in making himself successful."
Both Tracys said the coaching staff at Pepperdine also deserves praise for Chad's development.
"I think as far as the coaching staff goes, they've got to get a lot of credit," Chad Tracy said. "When I was a freshman, they gave me the opportunity. Not only did they give me the opportunity to succeed, they gave me the opportunity to fail. They didn't give up on me."
Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez said that any player with Tracy's work ethic and dedication is capable of exceeding expectations.
"The biggest joy we have is watching kids mature, not just physically, but emotionally on and off the field," Rodriguez said. "It makes you proud as a coach. He's done a tremendous job with the game of baseball."
Jim Tracy said the only thing that surprised him was how willing Rodriguez was to let Chad play right out of the gate.
"The first opportunity was in the fourth game of the (2004) season," Jim Tracy said. "One of the things I told Chad was you always do what you're told. You be ready when opportunity strikes. When the door opens a little bit you be ready to take it down and knock it off its hinges."
"I think .320, .367 and .353 to date would strongly suggest he's done that," Jim Tracy added in regards to his son's batting averages in each of his seasons.
Pepperdine's opposition has become all too aware of Chad Tracy's hitting ability.
"He's obviously their best hitter, he's a preseason All-American, he was the player of the week this last week in our conference," said LMU sophomore right-hander Andy Beal, a former Peninsula High standout. "He's a really good hitter. If a pitcher makes a mistake, he's going to capitalize on it. So you just have to keep the ball down and make him chase your spot, because if you don't, he'll put it up in the trees (that ring LMU's Page Stadium)."
While no one questions Tracy's bat at this stage, there are some who still wonder if he can play catcher at the next level.
His coach says he's more than capable.
"He absolutely can catch at the next level," Rodriguez said. "He still has some things to work on, but everyone does."
Tracy agreed with his coach's assessment.
"I'm very comfortable with the position," Tracy said. "At the same time, there's a lot to do in baseball in general. You can never work less. There's always something to work on.
"From my freshman year and last year, I've taken humongous strides defensively. Working with my dad over the summer and working hard here, it's starting to become second nature."
Jim Tracy said players like his son are coveted by major league teams.
"Catchers that are good receivers and have a high offensive potential are hard to find," Tracy said. "Every year teams are sitting around at the winter meetings talking about how few of them there are."
Jim Tracy said he'll leave the possibility of the Pirates drafting his son in June up to the scouting department. Chad Tracy said he's not worried about who drafts him or even what position they draft him to play.
"It is in the back of my mind right now," he said. "I'm really focused on this team. I want to see this team succeed.
"I know (the draft) is in June and I hope it works out, but it's out of my hands."