Geoff Klein: For The Love Of The Game
"He's the first one here and the last one out," said sophomore teammate and fellow catcher Patrick Terry.
"He's never satisfied," said junior shortstop and roommate Jon Karcich. "He's determined when he's on the field to constantly getting better and to help you get better."
Smart. Tough. Hilarious.
"He's really good at separating what he needs to do," said senior outfielder Matt Long. "He's one of the most focused players I've ever played with. He's also really funny; always messing around in the clubhouse before a game."
When Santa Clara junior catcher Geoff Klein's name is mentioned, those are just some of the words that come to mind.
Born on March 27, 1988 to parents John Klein and Patrice Pineda, Klein began playing baseball earlier than most. He says that from the time he was able to stand up and hold a bat, he was hitting off a tee. It probably didn't hurt that his dad, a teacher, was also a baseball scout.
"I was about 18 months when I started swinging off a tee," said Klein. "My dad made one for me and I would hit whiffle balls off a tee."
Baseball was always a family thing for the Klein's. His father played that and football in high school and junior college, and a young Geoff was coached by his father.
"My dad always coached me through little league," said Klein. "It was always something we did as a family. In my second year of tee ball, there were 12 kids on the team. Six of them were related to me. It was me, my sister Brenna, my cousins and even my dad's cousin's kids. Being able to do it with my family helped me fall in love with the sport."
Klein played every sport imaginable as a child. Teased for his lack of speed, soccer was quickly eliminated. So he headed towards the gridiron and started playing football, but his true passion was to be on the baseball diamond.
"I don't know how old I was when I made the decision to be a catcher," said Klein. "But I remember making it and I've been catching ever since. At the time I don't know why I made the decision. It sounds simple, but it's probably because you're apart of every play. You catch every pitch."
It's the intricacies of the position; the little bits and pieces that only catchers know that Klein enjoys. Receiving the pitch and throwing guys out at second was also a draw.
"I can watch a baseball game on TV just to watch a guy catch," said Klein. "It's as pretty as watching a guy with a nice swing. My job as a catcher is to make the pitcher better. That's the most important thing and it's one of the most underrated parts of the game. Baseball is a team game. We need to be on the same wavelength."
Building that rapport with the pitcher is something fairly new to the 6-foot-4 Klein while at Santa Clara.
Even though he was an All-Goldenwest League catcher in 2005 and the league's MVP in 2006, Klein wasn't heavily recruited by the typical baseball powerhouses like Fullerton or Stanford. Yet there was some interest from schools like Long Beach State, UC Riverside and Cornell. But it was Santa Clara that turned out to be the right fit.
"I've always been a good student and I enjoyed the fact that Santa Clara was small, private, had great academics and offered me the chance to continue to play baseball," said Klein.
"When I first met Geoff, it was his personality that really grabbed my attention," said Santa Clara head baseball coach Mark O'Brien. "He has a passion for the game and energy about him. He really wanted to play and compete at a higher level."
While at Ocean View High School in Huntington Beach, Klein helped his team to the Goldenwest League Championships in 2004-06, and the 2005 CIF Southern Section Championship. As a senior, he batted .373 with three home runs, six doubles, 20 RBIs and 19 walks as a clean-up hitter. He also threw out 79% of attempted base stealers.
However, after joining the Broncos in 2007, Klein didn't see much action until his sophomore year when he took on the role of the team's designated hitter.
"One of the most amazing things about Geoff is his attitude," said O'Brien. "When he was a freshman he didn't really have a lot of at bats. But he worked hard every day to get better. He knew his hard work would pay off and it did. His numbers just keep on improving and he plays his heart out every time he's out there."
Along with being the DH, Klein was the team's back-up catcher to fellow classmate Tommy Medica. A Bellarmine College Prep graduate, Medica led the Bells to a CCS Championship as a senior in 2006 and took over starting catching duties from the very beginning at Santa Clara. He earned freshman All-America honors and a place on Team USA's roster in the summer of 2007.
However, just nine games into the 2009 season, Klein's focus and role on the team changed completely.
"I saw Tommy go down and thought to myself `oh he'll get up, he'll be fine.' It wasn't until a couple of days later that the impact of the reality of his injury hit."
Medica suffered a season-ending injury as he dislocated his shoulder in the second game of a doubleheader at the University of Oregon.
"Hands down, Tommy is one of the best players I've ever played with," said Klein. "Whenever you lose a player of his caliber, it's a huge blow. But, it was automatic. You always have to be mentally ready to go in. I've always felt confident in my catching abilities, but the real test was going to be how I stacked up over time. Anyone can catch well for a couple of innings, but to go a full nine, that will be the true test."
And Klein passed with flying colors. Not only did he make a seamless transition behind the plate, his offensive numbers continue to increase.
"Geoff has really matured over time in his offensive capabilities," said O'Brien. "He has become physically stronger, more agile and mentally tougher. He has a great energy about him that has made him the offensive leader of our team."
The toughest adjustment he's had to make over the last two months was dealing with the physical toll catching takes on ones body. From just two years off from catching on a consistent basis, Klein's flexibility went down. He was sore after every game.
"I really took advantage of the training staff and learned my limits as far as my body goes," said Klein.
But there was also a mental adjustment and that's were the word "focused" is a true definition of Klein.
"When you DH, you're sitting on the bench for an hour and only hit for three minutes. Then you have another hour to think about that at bat," Klein explained. "But when you're a position player, sometimes you don't have time to take a practice swing. You just have to rely on muscle memory. You have to get rid of that last at bat immediately and get focused defensively. If I'm thinking about anything else, I could lose focus on just one pitch and that could cost us the game."
"He's improved so much," said Long. "When he first got here, he came up to me and asked if I could work with him on his hitting because he knew I had a really good freshman year. He took all that in and really focused on it. Coaches give a lot of constructive criticism and he could have responded differently. But he really used it. He always took his role seriously. With Tommy going down, you can tell how hard he's working in practice because he came in and didn't miss a beat."
Klein's focus from the beginning of the year was to simply improve with each at bat and help his team accomplish its goals. Whether it was producing as many runs as possible or driving in those runs, it has never been an individual outing for him.
"It's about taking advantage of opportunities with runners in scoring position," said Klein. "Runs and RBIs are how you win. It's the key to offense. My teammates are the reason for my high RBI total. It's not because of me. It's because they are on base in front of me. It's just a matter of cashing in on those opportunities."
Even though he credits his teammates for his success, some say it's his enthusiasm for the game that has been the driving force of his achievements.
"It hasn't become a job for me yet," said Klein. "When you play Division I baseball, you're priorities are out of whack. It's a grind, but there is nothing like being out there on game day. I've been doing this my whole life and now I'm realizing the fruits of my labor."
Klein has started all 39 games thus far for Santa Clara, 31 of those starts have been as catcher. He went from just 21 at bats, six hits and one RBI as a freshman to 176 at bats, 54 hits, 23 runs, three home runs and 31 RBIs as a sophomore to 153 at bats, 59 hits, 23 runs, 17 doubles, five home runs and 45 RBIs thus far as a junior.
"I'm trying to stay in the moment with all of it," said Klein. "Not just the baseball part of college, but playing with my buddies and the rapport we have. These are some of the best friends I'll ever have."
Among the more memorable moments his teammates have shared with him was Klein's first collegiate home run off of San Diego's All-American Josh Romanski in a non-conference game during the San Diego State Aztec Invitational in March 2008. More memorable moments are definitely in store for Klein.
"When I look back at baseball and my time here at Santa Clara, Klein is going to be on of the people that will always stand out because of his personality," Long commented. "He stands out as a person and a player. He'll be a hard person to forget."
"There is no doubt in my mind that Geoff will play professional baseball," said O'Brien. "He has the attitude, work ethic and ability to create a future for himself in baseball."
But as most college juniors focus on the upcoming Major League Baseball Amateur Draft on June 9-10, Klein is just taking it one game at a time. He says that he'll cross that bridge when he gets to it.
"All I'm thinking about is the team, this season and winning," said Klein. "All I can do is play. If I play my best, they might draft me or they might not. It's not a priority for me. I'm not going to deny that it's every kids dream, including mine, to play professionally, but it's something you can't consume yourself with."
Instead, his days are consumed with school, baseball, homework and sleep. With the future aspirations of becoming a doctor of sports medicine, Klein is majoring in one of the toughest programs at Santa Clara - Combined Sciences - in which he carries a 3.1 cumulative grade-point average. For his efforts on and off the diamond, he has been recognized as a West Coast Conference All-Academic honoree.
"I've always wanted to be a doctor," said Klein. "Taking on such a tough major has definitely kept my priorities in check. I am constantly aware of my goals both academically and athletically."
When asked what he would be doing if he wasn't playing baseball, Klein could not answer. "Baseball has always been something I've been able to count on," he said. "It has been who I am since I was a child."
To all the children playing little league with dreams on going all the way, Klein advises them to hold on to their passion for the game.
"You obviously need talent to succeed," Klein continued, "but I can't tell you how many people I've passed up who were way better than me in little league. I was never the stud on the team. I may have been one of the better players but it was never `hey Geoff Klein plays for that team.' You don't need to be the stud for dreams to come true. You just have to keep plugging away. Work hard and derive confidence from your hard work."