May 12, 2009
By Larry Watts
The University of Arizona took a pass after just one look. One look was all Indiana University baseball coach Tracy Smith needed.
Smith was working a San Diego baseball clinic in December, 2007 when he spotted Jerrud Sabourin. The San Diego native was home for the holidays working with hitting coach Darren Johnson after being cut by the University of Arizona coaching staff following only one day of walk-on tryouts.
"I didn't know what I was going to do," Sabourin says. "I had been communicating with the Arizona coaching staff through emails and they had suggested I come out and try to make the team as a walk-on. The impression I got was I would be a preferred walk-on and I would make the team."
A first baseman/pitcher at national power Torrey Pines High School, Sabourin had hit .390 as a senior with four home runs and 34 runs batted-in. The southpaw had compiled a 6-2 record on the mound with an earned run average of 2.73.
"But when I got to Arizona, they told me I had to come to a tryout with the rest of the walk-ons. What that basically meant was I came out one fall night for a couple of hours with 20 other candidates. We went through fielding drills and a couple of rounds of batting practice and they sent everyone home. It wasn't what I thought it would be.
"That really set me off track and I didn't know what I was going to do. I was stuck at Arizona and I wasn't going to give up my dream of playing Division I baseball. I would ride my bike six miles to a batting cage two or three times a week and I worked with former Arizona coach Jerry Stitt once a week. At that point, I was thinking about going to a junior college, but my mind was still set on playing Division I."
When he went home for the break, he continued to work out with Johnson, a coach at a rival high school. That is when he found out Smith would be coming over to hold a mini-tryout.
"There were about seven or eight of us, the rest being high school seniors," Sabourin says. "We took a couple of rounds of batting practice and took some fielding practice. Coach Smith didn't talk to me much because of NCAA rules, but he did suggest I give it a try at Indiana as a walk-on."
When he went back to Arizona in January, Sabourin withdrew from his classes, packed his bags and flew out to Bloomington. Fortunately, nearly all of the credits he earned transferred to Indiana.
"When I arrived, it was stormy and real cold," he says. "It was kind of shocking getting off that plane. But I had to do this to fulfill my ambition because I really love this game."
Sabourin's first introduction to Indiana baseball was what the coaching staff likes to call "the fun run." But the only people having any fun were the coaches.
"The whole team goes out on the indoor track and runs a bunch of sprints until half the team is puking," the 6-foot-2 Sabourin says. "Since I had been working out in Arizona and managed to stay in pretty good shape, I didn't have much problem with it. I was happy I wasn't one of the guys who puked and I think I made a good impression.
"I was confident I was going to make the team as a walk-on. I was going to beat out anyone who was in my way."
In Indiana's season opener at Louisiana State, the lefty-swinging Sabourin was called on to come off the bench against Golden Spikes candidate Jared Bradford and delivered a run-scoring single up the middle. He also singled to right in his second at-bat during the 7-1 loss. But Sabourin would be in the starting lineup at first base for the remaining 59 games.
"I just kept it going from there," he says. "The next day I got a couple more hits and I was leading the team in average after the first series. Things went pretty well from there."
All Sabourin did in his walk-on season was bat .383, which was second on his team and ninth in the Big Ten. He delivered five home runs with 14 doubles and 53 RBI. He wound up being named to the Freshman All-America squad.
"Freshman All-America was kind of the topping on the cake," he says. "I knew I was seeing the ball well and playing good defense. I looked at my numbers and figured I could get somewhere with those.
"I always knew in my life if I worked hard at something, it would pay off. I had no doubts about my ability and I was prepared. I kept the right mindset because I had played baseball at a high level all my life, so I was used to these situations and I knew I could do it."
It didn't take long for word of Sabourin's success to travel back to San Diego, where he might be considered a Pied Piper of sorts. Another six San Diego-area baseball rats followed him back to Bloomington this year.
"I think I did have an impact on getting more California players to come here," he says. "They saw the success I was having and the fact I was enjoying myself out here. Other coaches around San Diego started recommending players to coach Smith."
On a Hoosiers team loaded with .300 hitters, Sabourin is showing last year was no fluke. He is currently stroking the ball at a .355 clip with four home runs, 28 RBI and a slugging percentage of .507.
"You hear a lot about the brand of baseball being played out West, but the competition in the Big Ten isn't a whole lot different," he says. "There are a lot of good players and teams. The toughest part about it is playing so many games when it's 30-40 degrees. It's a lot harder to hit and see the ball when it's snowing. Those guys playing for those West Coast powerhouses don't know what it's like to not feel your hands."
But as Sabourin has discovered, one man's rejection can be another man's promotion. He couldn't be happier with the way things have turned out.
"I'm glad I made this decision," the sophomore says. "I don't know where I would be without God, coach Stitt, coach Johnson and my parents, who have been very supportive.
"It's kind of surreal how things have happened. I hope to eventually play professional baseball, but I also have med school as a backup plan if baseball doesn't work out."