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Ultimate Bulldog

Lightly recruited outfielder Susdorf helps Fresno State reach College World Series

Posted: June 14, 2008 2:16 a.m.
Updated: August 15, 2008 5:03 a.m.
It was improbable all the way around.

Fresno State, a No. 4 seed making it to the College World Series for the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. The Bulldogs making it to Omaha, Neb. for the first time since 1991.

A player who wasn't heavily recruited out of high school being named Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, getting drafted in the 19th round by the Philadelphia Phillies, and hitting a two-run home run in the seventh inning to cap Fresno State's stunning defeat of Arizona State in the Super Regionals.

That's the story of former Hart outfielder Steve Susdorf. Only he doesn't see it as that unlikely.

"We got off to a little of a rocky start at the beginning the year but I guarantee that everybody in the regional was not to happy that we were seeded fourth," Susdorf said by phone after the team's first practice at Rosenblatt Stadium.

Susdorf's tale is one of hard work, dedication, and overachievement.

"That's one of the great stories of all time regarding Hart High school," said Hart coach Jim Ozella who can't help but gush about his former player.

When he spoke with Susdorf on the phone after the Bulldogs reached the World Series, the first thing Susdorf said was, "Coach, I'm going to Omaha."

Ozella joked that Susdorf should be the marketing guy on the Web site. An Academic All-American who's close to graduating with an engineering degree, Susdorf puts a smile on Ozella's face every time he visits Hart.

"He's the ultimate Bulldog, Ozella said. "He's kind of the persona of that team."

Susdorf had high expectations for the Bulldogs. It's why he came back to school for his senior season. He envisioned being a part of the World Series.

"That was the main reason I came back was to make this run," he said.

As he saw the stadium and took in the atmosphere Friday, he said the reality had set in. He was in the place he imagined all along.

Back when he was being lightly recruited by Cal Poly and UCLA, neither of whom offered a scholarship, Fresno State was there.

"When he left us he was determined to make his mark at Fresno, and he's gone above and beyond," Ozella said.

After his junior season, the "ultimate student athlete," as Ozella calls him, was drafted in the 27th round by the Detroit Tigers and turned down a $50,000 signing bonus.

Susdorf returned Fresno State's loyalty by opting to forego the money for a chance to play for a title and continue his education.

"It was definitely a hard decision to make," he said.

But the memories were more important to him. He had already grown so much as a player and this was his chance to give back for the baseball education he received from Fresno State's coaching staff.

Bulldog coach Mike Batesole adjusted his swing when he first arrived, turning him from a front foot hitter and widening his stance so the majority of his weight was on the backside. That created the power which allowed him to hit 11 home runs, 29 doubles and knock in 81 runs to win the WAC Player of the Year. It's that swing that's come up clutch time and time again, knocking in a Fresno State career record 211 RBIs.

"You guys that have been around our program, you probably never heard me single out one guy ever,'' said Batesole, in a press conference following the win over ASU. "It's always about ‘us' and about ‘we.' But you take a look at what Steve Susdorf has done and meant to our program. He turned down a hell of a lot of money 12 months ago to come back so he could do this. I don't know if I've ever coached a young man that I've ever been more proud of."

The Bulldogs were the underdog before the World Series and they will play the same role during.

That's just fine with Susdorf.

"When you win it just makes it that much more exciting," he said.

Tomorrow, Fresno State will take on Rice at 11 a.m. on ESPN. The Bulldog underdogs will be at it again, they will have Susdorf an underdog in his own right, to thank.

"It's a testament to his character and to his inner determination to be the best," Ozella said. "He has gone

above and beyond everybody's expectations."

Susdorf just hopes it's not over yet.

"This has been an amazing year and an amazing run and I definitely don't want it to end," he said.


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