May 24, 2012
By Eric Johnson, special to UC Davis Athletics Communications
Tyler LaTorre was a UC Davis catcher for five years before graduating in 2006 and signing a professional contract with the San Francisco Giants. Since then he has steadily progressed in the minor leagues, showing defensive prowess and smarts that enable him to handle any pitching staff. He currently plays for the San Francisco Giants AAA team, the Fresno Grizzlies.
LaTorre played at UC Davis during a difficult but exciting time for the baseball program. His freshman year, 2003, was the last year the Aggies competed as a Division II school. That year UC Davis went to the Division II College World Series. But beginning in 2004, UC Davis entered the transition phase to NCAA Division I, and the entire program changed.
During that four-year transition phase, UC Davis was not eligible for playoffs and was not afforded the full number of scholarships that other Division I teams had. Nevertheless, they still played a full Big West schedule. The resilience of these transition teams has set the stage for what UC Davis baseball has become today.
LaTorre has also shown a deep commitment to UC Davis baseball during the time since his graduation. He has stayed very involved with the program and has remained close to both the players and coaches alike. His character and work ethic live on in the UC Davis program as examples for future players.
We caught up with Tyler LaTorre to discuss the changes to the UC Davis baseball program and the direction in which he sees it heading.
What was it like knowing that you were playing a regular Division I schedule without the possibility of going to the playoffs?
It was weird at first because my freshman year I got a taste of regionals and the Division II College World Series. Not to mention we had our whole team coming back from that World Series team, and we would have contended for another shot at a national championship. As a team, we took it upon ourselves to compete as hard as possible and be the best as we could be. Also, we knew we had to show the younger players and future recruits that we were a school that was top-notch academically and athletically.
What was the transition period like, facing a full Division I schedule while still without all the scholarships, etc., that a Division 1 team normally has?
Facing a Division I schedule was a little different. In Division II we had four games a weekend with doubleheaders on Saturday, so only three a weekend was better. However, we were playing programs with a lot more depth, especially in their pitching staffs and bullpens. The quality of play was greater, as well as better hitters, many with a lot more power. We could keep up for a little while, but our depth of talent at the beginning of the transition period just wasn't there.
Are there differences in the mentality that a team has to have in order to compete at a Division I level?
During a Big West Conference schedule, there are never any easy weeks. You are playing a quality program week in and week out. Being mentally weak can be very detrimental to a team because bad habits can snowball on you and all of a sudden you've lost a lot of games before you even notice the problem. Furthermore, we have all our mid-week games against very quality opponents. Playing Stanford, Cal, Saint Mary's, USF, and Sacramento State can be very trying after you play Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, Long Beach State, and Cal Poly in consecutive weeks. It is imperative that a team as a whole is mentally strong throughout the season because one false move could prove problematic.
What are some of the ways that you've seen the program grow since you left?
The program has grown greatly since my graduation. It seems like a greater number of alumni have come out to support the program. There has also been a huge renovation and upgrade in the UC Davis facilities. The program is definitely moving in the right direction.
What direction do you see the program heading, especially under the new leadership of Coach Vaughn?
Coach Vaughn is one of the most knowledgeable coaches I have ever come across. He is very smart, and I see him leading the Aggies in the right direction for the future. Coach Vaughn and Coach Schifano are two great recruiters and they know how to get the right players to fit the difficult academic and athletic challenges that UC Davis student-athletes face. There are still obvious advancements that need to take place on campus to get to the level of the Big West opponents that require time and money, but I look forward to UC Davis continuing its course as a school of rich tradition and growing men for successful futures.
You can catch Tyler LaTorre and the Fresno Grizzlies playing at Raley Field, home of the Sacramento Rivercats, May 29th through June 1st. All start times are 7:05pm.