Unlike any of his teammates, Sean Madigan has seen college baseball’s promised land. He is a multiple-dog-pile survivor with a distinguished postseason pedigree whose UC Irvine career is either as many as eight wins or as few as two losses away from completion.
So, when the 23-year-old right fielder, who is the program’s lone link to its only College World Series appearance in 2007, speaks of his intuition about the ‘Eaters’ current run toward a national championship, he has credibility on his side.
“You get these feelings,” Madigan said about his raw-nerve emotional commitment to that run that compelled him to be the first player out of the dugout to offer congratulations during most of the Anteaters’ three victories at the Los Angeles Regional at UCLA. “A lot of guys are stepping up, and pitching and defense are what you need to win a championship. I just get this feeling that people are starting to come together. We’re starting to play well and people are starting to believe. This is just exciting for me.”
The elder statesman of the UCI roster knows all about belief. He was a freshman All-American designated hitter in 2007, when UCI, just six seasons out of a nine-season dormancy created by budget cuts, rode a catalytic mixture of confidence, seemingly defiant nerve, and talent all the way to Omaha.
But beyond the collective spirit cultivated by a five-month season in which players spend more time in the dugout and/or clubhouse than they do their own living room, Madigan knows what it is to battle personal adversity.
He missed most of the 2009 season with surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus. His first two seasons, in 2007 and 2008, he also battled for playing time and was sometimes relegated to a left-handed-hitting platoon role at DH, first base and the outfield.
But perhaps his biggest individual victory has involved conquering consistent doubts about his diamond development that date back to his days as an undersized, overachieving little leaguer.
“I was an all-star in Little League, but I’m sure a lot of people — not me and my family — if you told them where I’m at today, they wouldn’t have believed it.”
Madigan was 5-foot-2 when he entered Servite High, where he grew both in stature and ability.
“I didn’t start growing until my junior year,” he said. “I was small.”
Madigan hit .378 as a senior and was recruited by a handful of West Coast schools, as well as Arizona, TCU and Virginia, the No. 1 national seed that the Anteaters will visit in a best-of-three super regional beginning Saturday at 10 a.m. The winner In Charlottesville will advance to the College World Series.
Then-UCI coach Dave Serrano hoped to redshirt Madigan in 2007, but a preseason hot streak and Madigan’s own unselfishness helped Serrano reconsider.
“I never think about my own accolades,” said Madigan, a second-team All-Big West Conference honoree who leads UCI in on-base percentage (.416), walks (39) and stolen bases (nine). He is batting .288 with 35 runs batted in, third on the team, and is one of four UCI players to start every game. At one point, he had a streak of reaching base in 34 straight games. “My biggest thing is: what can I do to help the team? When Serrano talked to me and my family about redshirting, I told him playing time was something I was not worried about. I told him ‘I think I can help this team and I don’t care if it’s 15 at-bats, or whatever.’ I never think about hitting home runs or doing things that might look good in the stats. Whether it’s getting hit by a pitch, or being walked, or getting a base hit or just hitting the ball hard, I want to do something that helps the team win.”
That unselfishness has endeared him to UCI Coach Mike Gillespie, who identifies leadership as another of Madigan’s strong contributions this season.
“He has been a lot of good things for us and one of those is being a great leader,” Gillespie said of the 5-10, 190-pounder whose strong arm and instincts in the outfield help bolster a noteworthy UCI defense. “I don’t think that just because a guy has been here as long as he has makes him a leader, but the fact is, he is a leader. His work is always good. He is always early and often stays late. He is not too cool for school.
“He is a smart guy who knows the game, and is passionate about it. He has great instincts, he gets it, and he is unselfish. And, I think, for him, it’s about winning. He is on board with trying to do whatever it takes to try to win. He has been a blessing.”
Madigan obtained his bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in education last spring, and is currently seeking a graduate degree in criminology, law and society.
But his immediate focus is on extending his baseball career.
“I’m happy for all the guys,” Madigan said. “I know only Crosby [Slaught, a fourth-year junior pitcher] and I have experienced what a super regional is, but I’m excited. It only gets more fun from here.”
Madigan said he is grateful for his time in the program.
“How many kids can say they played on a team that made it to regionals five years?” Madigan said. “In my five years, I’ve gotten to play in three super regionals and, for now, one Omaha. My best moment, so far, is making the College World Series as a freshman, but you have good moments on every team. Guys come and go, but the best thing about college baseball is that you make friends you are going to have for a long time. It’s definitely been a great ride and I’m glad that UC Irvine has been my home for the last five years.”