May 13, 2002
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Fifth year senior A.J. Ampi picked up his second win of the season against Pepperdine on Senior day at Buck Shaw Stadium on May 5. The southpaw from Tehama, Calif., has made 89 appearances for the Broncos during his career in which he has struck out 102 batters in 129 2/3 innings of work. In addition to his six victories on the mound, he has recorded seven saves which ties him for sixth place all-time in Santa Clara baseball history.
Over the weekend in Spokane, Wash., where the Broncos took on Gonzaga, A.J. took some time out from his schedule to answer a wide variety of questions. Among his answers were his thoughts on this season and what it feels like to still have postseason chances this late in the season.
Q: What has your time at Santa Clara been like for you?
A: "Baseball wise it has been a long journey. I have seen a lot of coaches during my time here. Coach Tom Myers is my fifth pitching coach in my five years at Santa Clara. Trying to implement different things into my mechanics has been difficult, but it has been worth it. The community here has been wonderful and I can't say enough about the faculty, staff and the friends you come away with here. Coming from a small town into a big city I didn't think I could have that. When I take a step back and look at it, I realize that I have met some real fine people here and I am glad about that."
Q: When did you get your start in baseball?
A: "I started playing ball from the time I could walk. I would play ball with my grandma when I was three or four and then I started playing little league after that. I have been involved with baseball for 18 years now and it has been a great run. I have really enjoyed it."
Q: When did you know that you wanted to be a pitcher?
A: "I think that all the players that come up now played pitcher and another position growing up. I pitched and played first base since I was left-handed. I started pitching when I was about 10 but didn't really start focusing in on it until I was in high school. My junior season I was fortunate enough to play on the varsity team and do well there. I had a great pitching coach in high school and learned a lot there from the mechanical side and that carried over into making pitching my main interest"
Q: What was the biggest transition for you from the high school game to the collegiate game?
A: "The biggest transition for me was the skill side of it. Fielding the bunts, learning the pick-off plays and trying to go out there everyday and compete by just throwing strikes. But then there is the quickness at which the college game is played, it is much faster and that takes a little getting used to. Also there is the challenge of balancing the athletic side with the academic side of college. Learning to put in the extra time in the classroom after having a three-hour practice was difficult from a mental and physical side. It takes a little while to have your body adjust to the higher demands of college life, but once you get used to it, it's not that bad."
Q: With only a few games remaining, what do you think will be your fondest memory from Santa Clara?
A: "No doubt, playing against Stanford at Sunken Diamond ranks right up there. Going in and playing in front of 3,500 people is always exciting. Getting the ball in a night game there is a feeling that I will never forget. The first time I pitched in college was against Stanford during my freshman year and it seems like it was yesterday that I was going up against all the first-rounders that they had that year. This year will be the year that I remember the most though, my senior season. The coaches this season have been really great to work under, with their enthusiasm and love for the game; it has been real infectious. They have been very consistent with the game plan they set forth in the fall; it has not changed this late in the spring, so that has been a good change for us. To see our coaches just be here for the players is something that I will always remember and admire."
Q: What is in store for you after life as a collegiate baseball player?
A: "I am going to try and play baseball as long as I can. Hopefully play independent or minor league ball. I hope I can get a run somewhere, but if not I would like to get involved in coaching and working my way up the ranks, doing something I enjoy is the main thing. Being a fifth-year guy you get the best of both worlds in that you are still a player but you have more of a leadership role and a coaching role. You are teaching things to the younger players that maybe they just don't want to hear from the coaches. You become the intermediate between the two and when you get that coaching feeling tapping on you a bit, you tend to want it a little more. Especially now with only a few games left, you start to think a little more about the future, and that is definitely what I have been thinking about."
Q: What types of things have you shared with the younger guys that will help them grow a little faster?
A: "To accept some failures. It is tough to come in as a freshman at a four-year division I school and I wanted to be a little bit of a counselor to them. Coaches like to see how mentally tough the younger kids are and so you help remind them that the season is much longer in college and to just hang in there. Four years is a long time and plenty of time to develop and we encourage them to stick with the game plan that the coaches are putting out there for them right now and it will payoff sooner than they think. The other thing I tell them is to just have fun. We are in a crunch situation now and it is not guaranteed to happen every year, so take a breath in pressure situations and to have fun and go hard at it."
Q: How exciting is it for you to be in this situation where every game still counts?
A: "It's been a long time coming for me in that it hasn't been since high school where every game has had meaning in the final weeks. It's been fun and real exciting in that every time you take the ball on the mound, there is something on the line. It is the reason that we put in all that time in the weight room and running polls on the field, you picture yourself in a position to make a difference in your team making the playoffs and it is that way for us this year. The stuff we put ourselves through to get here is definitely worth it and I wouldn't want to be in any other spot at this point."
Q: Who have been your biggest influences in not only baseball, but in life as well?
A: "My parents have always been there, they go to all the games and have been there for all the talks. My dad has been my most supportive psychologist in that he has helped me through some tough times on the mound. I have also had some very influential coaches and I feel very fortunate to have had so many quality people in that coaching position. Even now with Coach Myers, he has been a key to my consistency in that he has taken me in and been like a father figure in the baseball world. Even though I am a fifth year senior and he doesn't have to invest the time that he does in the younger guys, he still has treated me the same and given me the opportunity to thrown and learn even though I am gone after this year. He and Coach Mark O'Brien and the other coaches are a first-class act both on the field and off and Santa Clara is real lucky to have them around for a while."