Danny Bibona's mastery of the changeup helped him twice earn Big West Pitcher of the Year and All-American honors as a pitcher for UC Irvine.
So it was no surprise that very soon after his pitching career ended in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, he has quickly shifted career paths to another passion: college coaching.
Bibona, 24, was named pitching coach at UCI on Thursday, though his position on the staff is volunteer assistant. He replaces Jason Dietrich, who left last month to become pitching coach at Cal State Fullerton.
UCI Coach Mike Gillespie said Bibona inquired about a potential coaching job at his alma mater even before his release on June 28 from the Batavia Muckdogs, a Single-A affiliate of the Cardinals, who drafted him in the eighth round in the 2010 June First-Year Player Draft.
And, about three weeks later, he joins a UCI program that has made its reputation on pitching.
"It was an easy call," said UCI Coach Mike Gillespie, who admits that having a volunteer coach oversee the pitching staff is unconventional. "People could point to a lack of experience, but I'm not going to worry about that at all. People who know Danny, know him to be a gifted person who is smart, has a bright personality and all the intangibles. He has packed a lot of experience into his young career, so I think his knowledge is good. In his time here, he worked with [former pitching coaches] Dave Serrano, Ted Silva and Jason Dietrich, so he has been indoctrinated into what has gone on here and he has bought into that. At this time, he is fully committed to trying to make a career out of college coaching."
Bibona was a combined 30-6 with a 2.74 earned-run average his final three seasons at UCI, where he holds the career strikeout record (332). He was 4-0 with a 1.91 ERA in 33 innings for the Quad Cities River Bandits of the Single-A Midwest League in 2010, before injuring his left throwing shoulder.
After surgery sidelined him for the 2011 season, Bibona had two appearances for Batavia, posting a 6.43 ERA in seven innings before his release.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity in front of me and am excited to be back at UCI," Bibona said in a statement. "I am grateful Coach Gillespie has the confidence in me to lead the pitching staff this upcoming season. This program has been built around pitching from the time it was brought back [for the 2002 season after a nine-season hiatus due to budget cuts] and I don't intend for that to change."
Bibona contributed to UCI's reputation for pitching, helping the school reach the 2007 College World Series and come within three outs of another trip to Omaha in 2008. UCI won the program's first Big West title, earned the top national ranking and played host to its first NCAA Regional in 2009, and competed at the Los Angeles Regional hosted by UCLA in 2010.
UCI had its streak of six straight postseason appearances end last season, when injuries to the pitching staff and a lackluster offense led to a 31-25 record, including 13-11 conference mark, good for fourth place.
Former volunteer assistant Bob Macaluso has been promoted to assume the full-time position formerly held by Dietrich, Gillespie said.