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June 6, 2012
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Matt Flemer finished his California career just the way he would have wanted -- he pitched the final two innings of his senior season, after going 7.2 innings just two days before in an eventual 18-inning win over Stanford. The consummate teammate and the most intense of competitors, Flemer was the heart and soul of last year's miracle team, and was a guiding light to many of the young pitchers on the 2012 squad. On Wednesday, the savvy righty finally saw his career come to a true close, as he was picked up by the Colorado Rockies in the 27th round of the Major League First-Year Player Draft, with the 828th pick overall.
"The whole postseason run is just going to stick in my mind," Flemer recalled earlier this week during an interview for the book on the 2011 season. "Marcus [Semien]'s walk-off win against Washington State was pretty neat, because we had that barbecue that day for Save Cal Baseball. Marcus getting that hit, yeah, I mean, a bunch of stuff. Erik [Johnson] beating Gerrit Cole on that Friday, getting into that little scrum with UCLA on Saturday, just all the highs and lows, seeing the development of guys, stepping up and playing big roles for us, like Logan [Scott]. Logan was great that year. Derek [Campbell] was awesome in the postseason. [Kyle] Porter was unbelievable. [Justin] Jones coming in against Alcorn State and just mowing them down. All those things, and Louie Lechich, what gets lost in that Baylor game was the three innings he threw, and was just lights-out and kept them where they were. That rain delay against Rice, coming back out, [Austin] Booker getting that big hit to stretch the lead to three, and just how many times different guys came up and were the hero. It just rotated, every game. It was neat. It was really, really fun."
Now, it will be another pitcher who will step up to be the hero. It's someone else's turn. After turning down a $45,000 signing bonus in the 19th round of the 2011 Major League First-Year Player Draft from the Kansas City Royals a year ago, the senior righty slipped a bit this year and finally fell into the laps of the Rockies following a scintillating senior campaign.
"I got back, three days later, and they said I had an hour to decide on $45,000," Flemer said. "I already knew I was coming back. It wasn't that hard of a deal. The team that we were going to have this year, coming back, just seemed like it was the right thing. I was getting close to my degree. I never thought I'd be sitting here today, having just four units left. By June 26, I'll have my degree. It's just nuts. I'm taking a class now, and I'll let them know that I have to finish this class, and they'll more than likely be OK with that, because they'll want me to rest, anyway."
Flemer's last class is in accounting.
"I want to go into organizational business, when I'm done," Flemer said. "I'm going to teach business owners how to be better teammates, and I feel like that's something that I'll be good at.
"I think I can do well in that field," he said with a smile.
As a starting pitcher, Flemer -- along with 20th-round San Francisco Giants selection Mitch Delfino -- was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 this season, after Flemer took home the same distinction last season as Cal's closer, when he moved to ninth place on the program's all-time career saves list with six, to up his total to 11.
In 2011, Flemer was 4-2 with a 1.83 ERA in 30 relief appearances. Over his first 10 outings spanning 14.0 innings, Flemer did not allow a single walk, and on the year, fanned 41 hitters while walking just eight in 39.1 innings. Flemer helped to close out the final game of the Santa Clara Super Regional, as well, tossing a scoreless ninth in the 6-2 win after a tense confrontation with his pitching coach. Hubbs had said that there was no way Flemer was going to throw the ninth. The Bears didn't need him, and it wasn't a save situation. Flemer let loose a choice expletive and went down to warm up. After two scoreless innings by Kevin Miller and Kyle Porter, Flemer got the call.
"It happened a little quick," Flemer remembered. "It was 6-2, and I was thinking, Hubby (former pitching coach Dan Hubbs) called first-pitch change to the last guy, and the first two guys I got out pretty quick, and I was like, 'OK, let's go first pitch change,' and Hubby called first pitch change to the lefty that was u, and I was like, 'OK, I'll throw a get-me-over, and the guy's not going to swing; he'll probably take,' and then he hits this little capper off the end, a little hard, got off the end a little bit, and it started sinking. I saw Derek get into the crouch to field a ground ball, so I immediately thought, 'OK, ball hit to left side, got to cover first,' and then he caught it, and I wanted to make sure the umpire saw that he caught it. When I saw that he caught it, I threw my glove, and I almost hit the runner, running to first.
"I saw it on the replay, and I almost drilled him, then, after that, I knew what I wanted to do the night before, if we won. I was like, 'Alright, I'm going straight to my knees so I don't get clobbered up top. I braced myself for it a little bit, but still wanted to make it seem like it was pretty neat. I just remember going to the ground, and then Mitch hit me from behind, tried to slide, but didn't really slide, because he's not that flexible, so he hit me from behind, and then Chadd [Krist] slid in, on the side of me, then [Paul] Toboni tackled Devon [Rodriguez] over me, and then I got Toboni's knees right in my ribcage."
All that careful planning, gone to hell. Flemer laughed, remembering that he had gotten someone's knee caught in his calf. He felt that knot for the next six months. But, it didn't matter. The Bears were heading to Omaha. Flemer -- ever the veteran statesman -- extricated himself, and then went over to athletic director Sandy Barbour and gave her a big hug following the dog pile.
"I made her cry, too," Flemer smiled. "She was just standing by herself, and I kind of figured, no one should be standing by themselves in that situation. It was something that we did, as Cal, as the Golden Bear Family. We won this. She did a lot to get us in position to play in Santa Clara. It didn't seem right for someone to just be standing by themselves."
During the postseason run to the College World Series, Flemer was 2-0 with a save in eight appearances, with eight strikeouts in 9.1 innings, including a 3.0-inning save against Texas A&M on June 21 in Omaha, allowing three hits, no runs, no walks and striking out five Aggies hitters.
"I was still kind of ticked at myself from the Virginia game," Flemer said. "I came in with second and third and no one out and I gave up a hit and then a sac fly and we went down 2-0. So, I was a little ticked, but I kind of knew that, if it got close, I was going to have to go in again, because we'd used some pitching. I was going to be the guy if Porter gave us a good outing, and he did. He pitched awesome. The one thing I wanted to do was just get the first guy out each inning, and it was one of those things where I knew what the atmosphere was like, just because I had pitched the game before, so that didn't phase me. I just attacked everybody. I think I just threw a ton of fastballs, and I threw a lot of strikes. It was nice to end it with a strikeout. Everybody dreams of being on the biggest stage of college baseball and striking the last guy out, if you're a pitcher. That' something I've got to do."
To get to the World Series, Flemer threw the final out of the legendary comeback win over Baylor in the Houston Regional, getting Steve DalPorto to fly out to center fielder Darrell Matthews with two men on.
"I was thinking, 'I'd better put those seven or eight warm-up pitches to good use,'" Flemer recalled. "I didn't throw any when I went down to the bullpen. I didn't get loose at all. My arm was way too tired at that point. I'd pitched in every game, except the one that Porter threw the night before, but even that game, I got loose the last two innings. I had thrown every day, gotten 100-percent hot every day, and I was standing there with Jones, and Jones is getting loose. I played catch a little bit, and [Alex] Egber asked if I wanted him to get down [in the squat], and I was like, 'I'll just use them out there.' I'm going to use them out there, and see what happens. I just threw my seven warm-up pitches, a couple of them were strikes, so I just thought, 'Let's just go fastballs here.' I told Hubby [former pitching coach Dan Hubbs], 'I've got fastball-curveball, probably, and that's going to be it. I don't have a whole lot else in the tank.' He's like, 'Alright, well, just work with what we got,' and fortunately, he swung at the first pitch and flew out to center."
As soon as the game was over, Flemer knew something special had happened.
"I knew we did something special when my girlfriend was screaming through the phone," Flemer recalled of the postgame celebration. "She had never been to a Cal baseball game before last year, before we started dating. She was listening on the drive home from babysitting, and she heard the radio call and I looked at my phone and I had missed calls from everybody. I called my parents and they were going nuts, and I called my girlfriend, and she's like, I didn't even get a chance to say 'Hi,' and she was yelling through the phone: 'You guys did it! You guys did it! You guys did it!' And I'm like, 'Yeah, we did.' It kind of shocked me for a second, and it made me think of what everyone's reaction was that was either watching or listening; not just our reaction in the dugout, but what everyone back here was thinking."
As a full-time starter this season, Flemer finished with a 7-5 record and a 2.58 ERA. He had a season-high eight strikeouts in a 9-0 win over Utah on April 21 and the week before had a complete game versus Washington on April 14. Flemer finished his senior season third in the Pac-12 with 111.2 innings pitched and threw 7.0 innings or more in 13 of his 15 starts this season and 6.0 innings or more in all 15 of his starts. Flemer was also fourth in the Pac-12 with 26 strikeouts looking.