Tuesday, May 15, 2007 | University of San Diego catcher Jordan Abruzzo is a senior, so he offered a “Bull Durham” baseball movie reference when asked about establishing USD career records for hits and RBIs this season.

“It’s sort of a Crash Davis record,” said Abruzzo, referring to Kevin Costner’s Bull Durham character, a catcher, setting a career minor league record for home runs.

Hey, it was good line for a laugh, and it shows Abruzzo isn’t above poking fun at himself. College baseball players are eligible for the draft following their junior year, so if players return for their senior seasons it means they aren’t happy with their draft positions.

Abruzzo, a switch-hitter from El Capitan High, was drafted in the 39th round by the Boston Red Sox. The $50,000 or so of scholarship money he still had coming to him to finish his degree was more than the bonus money he would pocket for signing that late in the draft.

It was a good business decision for the sociology major to return to school. He’ll earn his degree and he’s improved his draft position in 2007.

And he’s also enjoying a USD season that could end up in the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. The Toreros won regular-season West Coast Conference title with a 41-15 and are ranked No. 5 in the nation in Monday’s latest “Baseball America” poll.

“I knew we had a great team coming back,” Abruzzo said. “This season has been unbelievable. In my four years here, I’ve seen this program turn into a Top 25 program and this year we’re ranked (No. 5.)”

USD is a lock to earn a berth in the NCAA regionals no matter what happens when the Toreros host WCC runner-up Gonzaga in a best-of-three series May 25-27 at Cunningham Stadium for the WCC tournament title.

Abruzzo, who was 5-for-5 with three home runs in a NCAA regional win over St. Louis University last year at Cal State Fullerton, could always swing a bat. As a junior, he hit .314 and led the team in doubles (18), home runs (8) and RBIs (58.)

But he learned scouts saw some holes in his game when he went so late in the draft.

“It was an eye-opener for him,” USD head coach Rich Hill said. “His focus has always been to become a major league player and get his college degree. He felt it was in his best interest to come back for his senior year. He’s had a great year and improved his draft status.”

As a senior, Abruzzo hit .333 with eight home runs and led the team in RBIs again with 56. But the similar numbers belie the changes in his game.

Abruzzo said he played at 240 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame as a junior, but this season he weighed between 215 and 220. He reduced his body fat from 18 percent to 10. He credits working with Alex Fiorni of Elite Nutrition.

“The feedback from scouts was I needed more agility behind the plate,” Abruzzo said. “I changed my eating habits and worked on my conditioning and speed. I’m like any college student, and fast food was too easy to eat. Now the food I eat is organic, high protein and low fat. I feel quicker and more confident.”

But Abruzzo contributes more to the Toreros’ success than his steady bat and improved defense. He is only the second team captain Hill has appointed in 20 years as a head coach. Hill spent 11 years at Cal Lutheran and the University of San Francisco before arriving at USD nine years ago to build an emerging national power.

“We think leadership should be in all of our starters,” Hill said. “I don’t like to put that pressure on a specific player. Their leadership skills have to be above and beyond to be named captain.”

Abruzzo is thankful he spent another year in the college environment instead of beating around the bush leagues like a Bull Durham character.

“We’ve talked since the beginning of the year we wanted to win the WCC tournament and go far in the post-season,” Abruzzo said. “The College World Series has been something that was realistic to talk about this year. We don’t shy away from talking about it, but we know we have to stay in the moment, too.”

He sounded a little like Crash Davis giving his teammates mature advice on a bus ride.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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