Past winners have included Matt Williams, Phil Nevin, Mark Kotsay, Bobby Crosby and Tom Goodwin.
And it wasn’t won by eligible players such as Jason Giambi, Lyle Overbay and Troy Tulowitzki.
Big West Conference Player of the Year honors went to Cal Poly baseball player Grant Desme on Tuesday. The junior right fielder was the only player in the Big West with at least two at-bats per game to finish the season with a batting average above .400 (.405). He won the conference’s triple crown, pacing the Big West in home runs (15) and RBI (53) along with total bases (143) and was tied for third in runs scored (54).
“It’s a big honor,” Desme said Tuesday in a phone interview. “I’m kind of speechless about it.”
And the soft-spoken Bakersfield native put up all those numbers despite missing the final six games of the season with a fractured right wrist.
“I try to stay away from looking at the stats,” Desme said. “I didn’t know how I was doing with the whole conference.”
Cal Poly’s Big West opponents also might not want to look at those statistics. Desme led or tied for the team lead among regulars in doubles (17), slugging percentage (.733), walks (30), on-base percentage (.494) and even stolen bases (12).
And his glove?
Desme committed only two errors in 50 games for a .982 fielding percentage.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Stockdale High product said the award was not something he had been planning for.
“It’s not something I came into the year shooting for,” Desme said. “It’s just something nice to have.”
The award could be viewed as something of a message to the playoff selection committee, which Monday passed up the Mustangs for the NCAA Tournament despite a 32-24 overall record, a fourth-place finish at 13-8 in Big West play and wins in 19 of their last 27 games.
Cal Poly even took two of three from the Big West’s most traditional power, Cal State Fullerton, which went 10-11 in the Big West but got into the tournament.
While at UNLV, Williams shared the award with UC Santa Barbara’s Scott Cerny in 1986. It was then won in 1989 by Goodwin (Fresno State), 1992 by Nevin (Cal State Fullerton), 1996 by Kotsay (Cal State Fullerton) and 2001 by Crosby (Long Beach State).
Although neither Giambi (Long Beach State), Overbay (Nevada) nor Tulowitzki (Long Beach State) won the award, they were all close, being named first-team all-conference twice each.
The last Cal Poly player to win the award was catcher Kyle Blumenthal in 2005.
In addition to Desme, Cal Poly sophomore right-hander Thomas Eager was named first-team all-conference. Mustang sophomore center fielder Logan Schafer, freshman catcher Wes Dorrell and junior closer Evan Reed were named to the second team and sophomore third baseman Brent Morel, freshman shortstop Kyle Smith and sophomore reliever Derrick Saito received Honorable Mention recognition.
“We had a lot of guys that we knew had to step up and play a big role for us this year because we had a lot of guys leaving (from 2006),” Desme said. “A lot of guys did step up and perform very well.”
Big West Pitcher of the Year went to UC Riverside junior ace right-hander James Simmons, UC Riverside center fielder Joey Gonzalez won Big West Freshman Player of the Year, UC Riverside right-hander Joe Kelly took Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year and UC Riverside’s Doug Smith earned Big West Coach of the Year.
As for Desme, he said his family plans on coming to San Luis Obispo to join him in watching the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, which runs from June 7 to 8 on ESPN2. Desme is expected to go no later than the third round.
Entering the season, more than 190 former Big West players had logged major-league experience, according to the conference’s preseason media guide. The only ex-Mustang currently in the majors is San Francisco reliever Kevin Correia, although the team’s storied history has churned out players such as Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith and former All-Star pitcher Mike Krukow.