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Andrew Rohrbach powered by self-belief

Posted: April 27, 2014 10:48 p.m.
Updated: April 27, 2014 10:48 p.m.
Pitcher Andrew Rohrbach hardly played while at College of the Canyons, but he’s now the ace of Long Beach State’s pitching staff. Pitcher Andrew Rohrbach hardly played while at College of the Canyons, but he’s now the ace of Long Beach State’s pitching staff.
Pitcher Andrew Rohrbach hardly played while at College of the Canyons, but he’s now the ace of Long Beach State’s pitching staff.

Belief is a pretty big thing.

It can turn a shortstop into a pitcher. It can carry that pitcher past a career-threatening injury. It can make people notice that pitcher, even when he’s not supposed to be noticed. And it can make others believe in that baseball player.

“I always said I didn’t want to play professional baseball,” Andrew Rohrbach says. “I want to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s always been my mentality.”

Try not believing that Rohrbach can achieve that.

He’s proven others wrong in the past,

Andrew Rohrbach is Long Beach State’s Friday night starter.

It’s college baseball’s way of calling someone the ace of a pitching staff.

There’s a lot behind Rohrbach getting to this place — so much that is untold on his bio on the Long Beach State baseball website.

It is easily the shortest and most unimpressive bio on the Long Beach State baseball team’s website.

It says he played at Simi Valley High (where he was a shortstop) and two seasons at College of the Canyons, where he pitched four innings in 2013. It mentions that he plays the piano. Not much else. (They didn’t even put that he’s an Abercrombie and Fitch model.)

But isn’t it curious that a guy who pitched just four innings at the community college level is the Friday starter at a nationally respected college baseball program?

There is a lot in Rohrbach’s background that has brought him to this place — a few people who believed in him and transformed him into a pitcher is one part, and adversity every step of the way is another.

“I’ve told him he’s an inspiration to me,” says Hart High head coach Jim Ozella.

Ozella seemingly wouldn’t have a connection to Rohrbach.

Simi and Santa Clarita are two different valleys, and though Ozella used to coach at College of the Canyons, it was in the last millennium.

However, Ozella made a large impact on a kid who isn’t one of his own.

Rohrbach’s father was a colleague of Hart assistant coach Jerry Miller and had asked him if he could help his son with his hitting.

“Good arm, good shortstop, but he wasn’t hitting,” Miller recalls Rohrbach’s father explaining to him. “So I worked with him for about two to three months.”

At the same time, Rohrbach was playing for a travel ball team and in one game his squad ran out of pitchers so they threw him in the game in the ninth inning.

He told Miller about the experience when they were working together on hitting.

Miller recalls Rohrbach explaining to him that he did pretty well — struck out a couple of hitters and hit 93 to 95 mph on the radar gun.

“You’re done hitting,” Miller recalls telling him.

Miller then told Ozella about the kid and asked the Hart head coach if he wanted to work on a summer project.

Ozella has a simple explanation why he took on the project.

“Because he’s interested in being a baseball player. It doesn’t matter what school he’s from,” Ozella says.

This was the summer of 2011.

Rohrbach grayshirted in 2011 at College of the Canyons — which further drives home the point that he either wasn’t good enough or ready to play at the community college level coming out of high school.

Ozella worked with Rohrbach on the mechanics of pitching, had him long toss to build up his arm strength and would have him pitch to any catcher who was available at Hart High School. Sometimes Rohrbach’s father, Steve, would even catch.

Steve came along and watched the transformation. For the first 10 sessions or so, Rohrbach recalls, his dad would carry $45 in his pocket.

He thought it was standard to pay a baseball coach for lessons.

Ozella refused.

In the fall, Rohrbach began pitching for College of the Canyons, but during one outing, he felt a pop in his right elbow.

He tore a ligament and needed Tommy John surgery — a procedure where the ligament would be replaced, meaning the new pitcher faced approximately 12 to 18 months of recovery and rehabilitation before he could pitch competitively again.

Ozella stepped in again and put Rohrbach in touch with Hart baseball’s team doctor Jeff Bowne.

Bowne put him on a grueling rehabilitation program that saw Rohrbach working six days per week, usually with mind-numbingly repetitive exercises.

At the same time, Rohrbach was also transforming his body into a pitcher’s body — less exercises to build bulk on the upper body and more running to make his legs stronger and give him stamina.

For a guy who had so little pitching experience, it would have been easy for him to give up.

“At that stage I wasn’t developed as a shortstop,” Rohrbach says. “I wasn’t going to get a scholarship as a shortstop.”

So he kept going.

Ozella saw a rare determination in Rohrbach and a potential rags to riches story in him because of his belief.

At College of the Canyons in 2013, Rohrbach pitched four innings.

That’s it.

And in those four innings, he wasn’t all that good — seven hits, one walk, three earned runs and two strikeouts — maybe the reason why the Long Beach State website doesn’t provide much detail about him.

Rohrbach says he was ready to pitch more, though, and described his last season at COC as “frustrating.”

“Last year he was really raw,” says former College of the Canyons catcher Alex Bishop, who is also his teammate now at Long Beach State. “Good athlete, good arm. You could see a lot of potential, but he didn’t get too many opportunities.”

He created his own opportunity, though.

Because scouts — both Major League and college — were around COC to watch some of the other talent, Rohrbach says he used to light it up in his bullpen sessions, hoping the pop created by his 90-plus mph fastball meeting a catcher’s mitt would distract the scouts enough to come over and watch him.

They did.

The result was offers from Gonzaga and Long Beach State.

“It’s probably extremely rare,” says Long Beach State head coach Troy Buckley on recruiting a pitcher with that little experience. “We’re not in the business of developing (guys into pitchers). Yes it goes hand in hand with how a program is set up, but at same time college baseball is very comparable to Major League Baseball. You have to win and you have to win now. You look for guys with experience and history behind them. Certainly innings is the better teacher besides a coach.”

With that kind of pressure a college can’t miss.

But Buckley says from what he saw of Rohrbach’s electric arm, his athleticism, desire, and coachability — adding that he knows Ozella and trusts his opinion — that it wasn’t as big a gamble as one would perceive.

The plan was to give the redshirt sophomore innings, but he wasn’t supposed to be the Friday or even Saturday starter.

Injuries by others and his strong performances have elevated him to this point.

He’s 4-1 with 41 strikeouts, a 2.28 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 11 starts (71 innings).

There’s one commonality you hear from Ozella, Buckley, Miller and Bishop — Rohrbach not only listens, he learns and adjusts.

Buckley calls the 22-year-old “salt of the earth.”

And someday he feels, Rohrbach will be called something else — a big leaguer.

“He’s got a chance to pitch in the big leagues,” Buckley says. “I’ve had some phenomenal arms. Andrew Rohrbach, based on strength, arm speed and getting innings under his belt has a good shot to pitch in the big leagues.”

Believe it.


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