Talking Cal Bears Baseball with Nik Jam

Courtesy Cal Bears Athletics

Courtesy Cal Bears Athletics

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Gustav Davila AKA Nik Jam (@NikJamTheMan on Twitter) of California Golden Blogs, SB Nation’s Cal community.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Cal is a program on the come. After being picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 preseason poll, the Bears ended up finishing 36-21 overall and 18-12 in league play, which was good for a tie for third place. They ended up in the College Station regional, where they were just one or two plays away from winning it all and advancing to a super regional.

For the Cal faithful, the 2015 team had to be a lot of fun to follow, but as good as 2015 was, 2016 has the chance to be even better, as the Bears have suddenly found themselves among the favorites for the Pac-12 title next season.

In my conversation with Nik, we touched on the 2015 season that was, the program as a whole, now four years removed from receiving a literal death sentence, and the high expectations for 2016.

So, without further ado, the Q&A.

Joseph Healy: What was the general reaction to the season enjoyed by the Bears in 2015? Coming into the season with modest expectations, but then getting into a regional and making some noise had to be nice. Of course, I also imagine there is a bit of disappointment that they were quite literally one hit away from getting into a super regional and couldn’t get it done. 

Nik Jam: I was really happy for the seniors. They signed on for a Cal team that had just been reinstated but still had an uncertain future. It would have been very unfortunate for that class to graduate without a postseason berth. It was frustrating that this team didn’t get national recognition for most of the year. While their seeding was about right, because they did have a mid-season stumble against weak teams at home (Washington State, Stanford), they had some solid series wins against Arizona State and USC, and I felt like they could have been talked about more nationally.

There was nothing to hold our heads down for, but the way the regional ended was very disappointing. Indeed the Bears were two outs away from winning the regional and then in extra innings had a few shots to win that Game 6 and put it away. I’m an A’s fan. I remember in 2013 when the A’s lost Game 4 of the ALDS and had to play Game 5 against Justin Verlander. I remember that feeling of dread, that wound up becoming reality as Verlander and the Detroit Tigers were pretty much automatic. That’s how I felt about Game 7. While Cal did have a great chance to win that game too after Chris Paul’s clutch home run, it was hard to think that the home town Texas A&M team wouldn’t pull it out. It was a gut-wrenching way for the season to end and it took me a while to get over. I know the players felt that way too.
JH: In the grand scheme of things, just the fact that the program exists is a win, given that the program was left for dead in 2011. In your estimation, how big a role does the program’s resurrection play in the way the program is run and how it is supported locally? Is that whole saga from four years ago still part of the discussion at all? 
NJ: When watching Cal play in the Regionals on ESPN and really the whole season on Pac-12 Networks, the program’s cut and reinstatement was mentioned quite a lot by the broadcasters. I think it’s still a cool story, especially given that the senior class was the first class to join Cal despite being unsure about the program’s future. It took a while for the program to start having normal recruiting classes. Soon, we’ll be a normal team again, but for now we’re still behind a recruiting class or two, so the story will probably still be mentioned when watching Cal games on TV.

The fact is, Cal athletics is still in the red, and while things seem okay now, we can never be sure that some sports will be on the chopping block again, and baseball is still one of the most expensive programs to run. It may be in the back of recruits’ minds for years to come.
However, the community got stronger as well as a result. A lot of money was raised for the baseball team. Now we have permanent lights in the stadium. Previously, until 2012, we could only have day games. Now we regularly have night games. Now there’s a real scoreboard in centerfield. This also allows Cal to be eligible to host a regional should they be deserving in the future. I don’t know if these things happen without the donations Cal baseball got to keep the program running for a while. These donations are still coming in, and fundraisers are still going on.
JH: What are your thoughts on early predictions, including some from, that say that Cal is on the short list of teams that could be playing in the College World Series in 2016? Also, while acknowledging that we have a long way to go, what are your expectations for the 2016 season?
NJ: I agree with the expectations that Cal should be really good next season. Although losing pitching coach Mike Neu (hired by Pacific to be their head coach) is a big loss, our pitching crew of Daulton Jefferies, Jeff Bain, and Ryan Mason should still dominate, as should our bullpen. With the exception of the graduated Chris Paul, now in the Minnesota Twins farm system, our offense that led the Pac-12 in home runs is going to be back. It would be really disappointing if this team didn’t capitalize and have a really good regular season.

I don’t know if I want to predict Omaha, because the NCAA Tournament can be so random (#1 seed UCLA went down last season, and #1 Oregon State went down the year before that) but I do feel like the team should be able to put themselves in a good position with a solid regular season campaign.
Hopefully our non-conference schedule is challenging, but I expect the Pac-12 to have a lot of good teams where wins will be hard to come by. There’s still UCLA and Oregon State to deal with. There’s no reason to believe Arizona State and USC won’t still be good. Teams like Stanford and Oregon could have bounce back campaigns. There’s really no sure thing in 2016, so it’ll be fun to see how this plays out.
I’m really looking forward to it. Go Bears! Thanks for reading what I have to say.

About the Author

Joseph Healy
Growing up in Houston, Joe Healy was introduced to college baseball at a young age, and it was love at first sight. Like most good love stories, that love has only grown throughout the years. When he's not at the ballpark, he enjoys tacos, college football during the fall, and the spectacle that is American politics. He holds a B.A. in political science from Sam Houston State University and a Master's in Public Administration from Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville.