Larsson makes 2011 a comeback year
Cameron outfielder led DII in RBIs and slugging percentage
Chase Larsson was an unlikely candidate to be the best player in NCAA Division II baseball when the season began. He had been away from the college game for two years and his only collegiate experience was at the junior college level.
So the odds were stacked against him. But Larsson wasn’t going to worry about the odds. He was determined to prove people wrong. In 2011 he put his talent on display at Cameron University in Oklahoma and made his mark by leading the nation in home runs (29) and winning the Tino Martinez Award, which is given to the best player in DII.
Martinez played collegiately at Tampa and went on to have a stellar career in Major League Baseball. It was Martinez who called Larsson to let him know he had won the award.
“The phone call was totally unexpected,” Larsson said. “It was awesome to hear from him and an honor to win it. He asked me about the draft and wished me luck in my career.”
As if that news wasn’t big enough, life became even more thrilling the next day. Larsson was taken in the ninth round of the MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves. He never had a workout in Atlanta—only the Angels, Yankees and Cardinals brought him in—but an area scout from the Braves did check him out during the season.
“They showed interest in me and even called me to tell me that they hoped they would be the team that would draft me,” Larsson said. “It’s an honor to be taken by such a great organization. I know I’ll have to work real hard to make it here.”
No matter what happens from here on out, Larsson has already made it further than most ever expected him to as his journey has been anything but easy.
It began back in 2006 in Vancouver, British Columbia, when he was drafted out of high school by Kansas City in the 18th round. The money isn’t outrageous for someone picked that deep into the draft and Larsson figured he could increase his chances of a bigger payday by playing college baseball for a year.
The plan failed. Larsson led the nation in triples (13) and hit .413 as a freshman at Odessa Junior College, but his performance wasn’t good enough to earn a better deal.
“I figured I would go to school for a year, get better and stronger, and it would automatically lead to a better offer from the Royals,” Larsson said. “It didn’t work out that way. It was tough to deal with.”
He played at St. Petersburg in 2008 and had another good season, hitting .353 and cranking out nine home runs. His plan was to play Division I baseball at Florida Gulf Coast the next season. The problem was that he wasn’t eligible academically. The same roadblock prevented him from landing at Nicholls State as well.
Larsson could have let the dream die there. He refused. Instead, he spent the next two years taking online classes to get himself eligible to play Division I baseball and stayed sharp from a baseball standpoint by playing for a team in Canada that was comprised of players in the same situation as Larsson.
“I knew I could play. I just needed another chance to prove it,” Larsson said. “I worked hard to make it happen, and I think being away from the (college) game created a hunger inside of me to make the most of another chance.”
The thing is, his chance would not come in Division I. Being away from the game for an extended period of time made substantial scholarship offers tough to come by. Fortunately, a couple of people at Cameron knew about Larsson, including a former junior college teammate, and they helped bring him to the team.
The Aggies certainly benefited from having Larsson. The junior outfielder led DII in RBIs (84), total bases (190) and slugging percentage (1.000). His .432 batting average was 11th best in the nation, and he scored 74 runs, the second most in the country, while committing only two errors.
|Division II National Statistical Leaders|
|Batting Average||Runs Batted In|
|Home Runs||Total Bases|
|Slugging Percentage||Base on Balls|
At one point, Larsson hit a home run in nine consecutive games, which set a DII record.
Larsson was always confident he could shine at Cameron. But the idea of him being named the top player in DII was something that never crossed his mind.
“I didn’t go into the season with an expectation that I would win a national award,” Larsson said. “I definitely thought I had a chance to be one of the better players in the country because I had put up good numbers in the past, and it was great to see things work out.”
Larsson is now in Orlando preparing for the next step in his career. He will attend a mini-camp most of this week before heading to Virginia to play for the rookie league team in Danville.
Cameron head coach Todd Holland expects Larsson to succeed.
“He just has a good swing,” Holland said in a story on the school website. “Everyone is worried because he is coming from a DII [school], but we faced guys throwing 80, 90 miles per hour. The guys that gave him fits are the guys that don’t throw hard. I think he’ll do great.”
Larsson believes his ability to hit for power and average will give him a chance to excel at the next level. He is also confident in his defensive skills.
But if he is to eventually make it to Atlanta and achieve the major league dream he has been aiming for since he was a child, he knows he has a lot of work ahead of him.
“I need to get in better shape, and baseball-wise, I have to get used to facing better pitching,” Larsson said. “It’s going to be a lot different than it was in Division II, but if I work hard enough at it, I know I can be successful.”
Considering what Larsson has already accomplished, it would be tough to bet against him. On a Monday night in Orlando, with a whirlwind week behind him and a promising future on the horizon, Larsson took a moment to reflect on his journey up to this point.
“I didn’t take the easiest path to professional baseball, and things didn’t always come easy for me, but I was able to improve as a player and I’ve proved that hard work really does pay off.”