May 18, 2006
By Amanda Branam / MLB.com
When Chad Tracy joined the Pepperdine baseball team for his freshman season in 2004, he wasn't the starting catcher. That only lasted about three games.
"We put him in at a very tough situation at Cal Poly and I think he ended up hitting a couple of doubles that game, and then he started the next game," said Pepperdine head coach Steve Rodriguez. "He started the next 110 games for us."
"We try not to put that kind of pressure on freshmen but when he was doing so well, he wasn't really a freshman anymore for us. He was just a major contributor to this team. I think he's been above and beyond what all of us expected."
Maybe Tracy has exceeded expectations because he came to Pepperdine, undrafted out of Claremont High School in Southern California, at about 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 and 160 pounds. The 2005 second-team All-America has put on some 30 pounds of muscle since then, and there is little chance Major League teams will overlook him in this year's draft.
It's hard to ignore a player who was named this week as one of 10 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award, given to college baseball's best catcher. The 20-year-old is even harder to ignore because on top of his catching abilities, he led the West Coast Conference in batting average (.367), slugging percentage (.609), hits (94), RBIs (61), doubles (22), home runs (12), and total bases (156) in 2005.
While much has changed for Tracy in less than three years time -- especially where his anonymity was concerned -- some things have not changed: his love for the game, his dedication to the game, and his quiet, humble nature.
"When everybody was playing around doing other things he was someplace else trying to get better," said his dad, current Pirates manager Jim Tracy. "I am proud of him. He deserves to be in this position. He is the type of kid that from a character standpoint you can't get any higher than what he possesses."
Because his dad was a big-league manager, Tracy has always been around baseball and been able to experience the game in a way most cannot. It didn't take him long to figure out exactly what he wanted to do with his life.
"When you spend that much time around that type of atmosphere at a young age, you can't help but be like, 'Man, this would be really cool to do this.' I think probably when I got into my teen years, 13 or 14, I just lived for baseball," the 2005 WCC Player of the Year said.
"I love playing it," he added. "Especially when I got started going through high school and I started realizing I could go play Division I college ball, I decided this is what I want to do. I want to dedicate everything into doing this for my life."
These days, Tracy's life is filled with a whole lot of baseball and not much else. He usually gets up around 9:30 a.m., and if it's game day, he's already got the day's opponent on his mind. He's playing baseball until around 4 p.m. and when the final pitch is thrown, the 20-year-old's day of baseball-related activities is only about half over.
After every game, he talks to his dad at length. If Tracy feels he's having trouble in any area of his game, he looks to his dad to help him out of it.
"If I'm struggling with something or I need help with something, usually he can help me over the phone just because he knows me so well, and knows little things that I do wrong sometimes," Chad said about his father.
After talking with his dad, he may then talk to one of his brothers about how their day of baseball went. His older brother, Brian, is a pitcher for UC Santa Barbara and Mark is a high school senior who also plays baseball.
Growing up with his two brothers, everything was a competition. Chad assures that he "of course" won all competitions, save for one situation. "As long as it didn't mean a fist fight with either one of them," he said, "because they're bigger than me."
Not only is Chad the smallest of the three, he says he is also the quietest. His competitive but quiet demeanor with his brothers has carried onto the baseball field, where he sees the best way to be a leader is by his actions.
Chad says he'll get vocal with teammates when he needs to, but for the most part, that's just not his style.
"It's kind of better for me to lead with what I do, not with what I say," he said.
When Tracy is done for the day on the field and done talking to family, he will probably turn on the television to watch highlights of all the baseball games that went on that day. It won't be long after that before he goes to bed and it starts all over again with more baseball, and more discussions with his family about baseball.
So it goes for Chad Tracy. Family and baseball are inseparable, and for this 20-year-old, that's exactly how he likes it.
Amanda Branam is an associate reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Ed Eagle contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.