San Jose State baseball shocked the west with their first conference championship and a berth to the NCAA tournament just a month ago. Their effort was part of three SJSU sports teams making the NCAA tourney and two of those teams winning Mountain West championships.
SJS’ 2022-2023 athletics season is an example of the collective successes on and off the field that the Spartans have been experiencing - all of which is continually building up their local community and recruiting mindshare (and hopefully of those still stuck a decade or two back).
For head coach Brad Sanfilippo, the shine of being the Mountain West champions will be bright for generations.
“We’ve got the rest of our lives to reflect on these accomplishments that we’ll always have,” said Sanfilippo since hoisting the trophy. “What this group did was special and we’ll always remember it, because you can only be the first one to do it once, where no San Jose State baseball team has ever won the Mountain West.”
Finishing the 2023 season with a 31-27 (18-11 MW) record and a second season of 30+ wins, the Spartans rode hard on the skills and emotions of high-character field leaders like: Robert Hamchuck, Charles McAdoo, Jack Colette, Jack White, Hunter Dorraugh and Jonathan Clark to name a few.
“That sweep against Nevada, then the following week at Fresno to get where we were, it was an all-out effort and emotional high to get there,” said Sanfilippo of the last couple weeks of the season. “The ending at the regionals was hard, but it certainly doesn’t take away from anything.”
It’s been over two decades since Spartan baseball experienced a similar feat. Though losing to two national powers like Stanford and Cal State Fullerton in the NCAA tournament, the expectations were still to win.
The other reason Sanfilippo is still not in reflect-mode? It’s the height of recruiting season for him and his staff.
“The MLB draft is now later in July. There’s only 20 rounds now; half of what it was,” said Sanfilippo of the current recruiting dynamics. “If it was 40 rounds, we know it would be a slam dunk for some of our guys.”
“Then there’s the transfer portal. All of it is an interesting effect on the timeline we’re working with.”
When greater San Jose was still swaths of orchards and innocence, Sanfilippo grew up as a Bay Area baseball fan during San Jose State’s heydays. He was born in and around baseball and seemingly, Sanfilippo would “ride-or-die” with America’s past time.
“As a South Bay kid growing up, I was a college baseball junkie watching the Spartans, Stanford and Santa Clara closely,” said the 48-year-old Sanfilippo. “And it’s funny the fate we ended up in the regionals against Stanford is just surreal.”
Surreal to Sanfilippo given that his father is a Spartan alumni, his ties to Spartan stadium are etched in his childhood and his road as high school and college player and coach run throughout San Jose and Northern California; reaching new heights at SJSU over the last six years.
“My dad was a Spartan and I remember Spartan quarterback Mike Perez against Fresno State and Earthquakes soccer,” said Sanfilippo. “I even played a CCS football game in high school at Spartan Stadium.”
In a nutshell, Sanfilippo shares the essence of life and the baseball lives around him are richer from it.
Loyalty & character
If we could ever measure or even see “loyalty” and “character,” life would be so much easier. But, as they say, if things were that easy....
“Things have certainly been a challenge the last few years to turn this program where we truly feel this program could be at the level it should be to compete,” said Sanfilippo.
Sanfilippo entered as the interim coach in 2018 in the wake of the unfortunate incidents around past coach Jason Hawkins and other proceeding probations stemming from that time. 2020 and 2021 saw glimpses of what could be, but key injuries and the dreaded Covid loop deterred progress.
“There’s always challenges out there,” said Sanfilippo. “Better facilities, better budgets, etc. but to have a group of guys who buy in and believe in what’s possible and invest and support each other, who are selfless to what we want to achieve - that’s not as easy or as possible for some teams.”
Another key intangible characteristic to championship caliber teams - leadership. Leadership is facing and overcoming adversity in many ways and many times over. Perhaps it’s an overused term, but its presence is just as fundamental as the basic skills needed on the field.
“Staying loyal to each other and committed to the program is that type of leadership we have on this team,” said Sanfilippo expanding on the definition. “Considering the effects of the transfer portal and kids trying to find better opportunities, that’s the reality of the college world.”
The Hamchuks, McAdoos and others could have easily gotten Pac-12 or SEC offers confirms Sanfilippo.
“Our guys...,” added Sanfilippo. “show their love for each other, for the coaches and are grateful just being here at San Jose State.”
“And ‘that’ something special...,” Sanfilippo continued. “is about being a team and all of this speaks to the overall leadership and character of the group.”
The native-son-done-good perfectly characterizes what his teams are about: brotherhood, family, high character and commitment. All the boring words that fly by most, except these Spartans definitely have fun too.
Sanfilippo’s presence is a dichotomy of past and future, old and new - a modern bridge for his players and coaches to take in all that is baseball and not baseball, but is.
If you know the feeling of first going to watch a baseball game; college or pro - it’s that unmistakeable, timeless aura of everything you see and feel in and around the confines of the game. That holistic beauty of a powerful chess game on the field that Sanfilippo embodies.
SJS’ future stems from a rich past through Sanfilippo’s baseball-is-life world.
“Our future looks good with our high school players to develop,” shared Sanfilippo. “I’m sure a couple of them will emerge as impact players.”
Sanfilippo is also high on JC players coming in and goes on to describe them all as character kids in the light of their veterans.
“We still need to scramble of bit to fill those holes left by Collette at center and Jonathan Carr our Friday night guy and Jack Carr, one of our best pitchers this year, since we know we’re losing those guys,” said Sanfilippo.
In the off-season, it’s clear, the always-on Sanfilippo is living his best life. It’s plenty busy with baseball, as it should be to get ready for the encore next season.