When UC Irvine shortstop Ben Orloff was drafted last June in the 19th round by the Colorado Rockies, there were risk-reward factors involved with his decision to return for his senior baseball season with the Anteaters.
That reward list will become significantly more substantial today, when the College Baseball Foundation will announce that Orloff has won the Brooks Wallace Award, given annually to the nation’s top collegiate shortstop.
Orloff, the Big West Conference Player of the Year, hit .358 with 62 runs, 91 hits, 28 runs batted in and 18 stolen bases to help lead the Anteaters (45-15) to their first Big West championship.
He was named first-team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Assn. and he was named third-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.
With a sterling four-year career that included school-career records for hits (280) runs (178) and games played (241), Orloff was the unquestioned leader of a program that ascended to its first No. 1 national ranking this season.
During his tenure, which ended with a run of 215 consecutive starts in which he played every inning of every game, UCI went to the postseason four times, including the program’s first trip to the 2007 College World Series.
UCI was three outs away from a return trip to Omaha in 2008, before LSU rallied to win the best-of-three Super Regional in Baton Rouge.
The last four seasons, UCI was 170-75-1, a .693 winning percentage, and ’Eaters Coach Mike Gillespie, as well as his predecessor, Dave Serrano, have been prolific with praise for Orloff’s baseball savvy, leadership qualities and affable personality.
Orloff led the nation in sacrifices as a freshman (26) and a sophomore, during which time his 112 included 10 extra-base hits (all doubles).
He lashed 17 doubles in 2008 and added 11 this season, while also adding his lone career triple in 2009. He did not hit a home run in 777 career at-bats, but, by the measure of respect, he still managed to carry the biggest stick in the Anteaters’ dugout.
“I sometimes hesitate to praise guys until they’re gone,” Gillespie said in April, “because some guys can’t handle it. And then they’re up for ridicule by their teammates, because the coach loves him and all that stuff. Well, this guy’s different. One, he can handle it and, two, everybody else feels the same way [about him]. There’s not anybody that doesn’t love him and doesn’t realize what a special player he is.”
Gillespie, in 42 seasons as a college head coach, said several times during the season that he has never seen a player with a more intelligence on the field.
“I don’t know how else to say it: His instincts, his clue, his feel for the game, his baseball IQ, is like nothing else,” Gillespie said. “It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. The guy is just ... I’m not kidding. I shouldn’t be surprised, yet something always comes up where I’m surprised.
“He doesn’t change. There’s no arrogance. He’s unselfish to the absolute max. I mean he should be a major league manager. He might be wasted as a major league manager, because they can do so little, in terms of all these little things ... He probably should be a college coach, a college head coach. And he’s ready to do it right now. I’m not kidding, he’s a better coach than I am.
“He’s a joy, an absolute joy. And you can tell him how great he is and he’s gonna shake it off and it ain’t going to change him.”
Orloff was drafted in the ninth round (No. 281 overall) by the Houston Astros Wednesday.