baseball leads Calvin's first baseman
By Jeff Febus
Arie Eppinga will never forget the 1989 Major League Baseball World Series. Although just eight years old at the time, Eppinga was gripped by the Fall Classic that matched the nearby San Francisco Giants and his boyhood-favorite Oakland Athletics.
“Ever since I can remember, the Oakland As have been my favorite team,” said Eppinga who hails from the Oakland suburb of Walnut Creek. “And whenever the Giants were playing, I’d root for them, except when they were playing Oakland.”
It’s what happened before game three of that World Series that left the most lasting impression, however. Shortly before the start of the contest, an earthquake of 7.1 magnitude rocked northern California, postponing the World Series for ten days. “I was out in the backyard playing tee ball with my dad and my two brothers when the earthquake hit,” said Eppinga. “When you grow up in California, you’re trained in what to do when an earthquake happens. The first thing we did was to run to an open area where nothing could fall on us.”
At the time of the earthquake, Eppinga’s mother and sister were at a campground, located near the epicenter of the earthquake. The tremor crumpled some of the cabins at the camp to the ground, but Eppinga’s family members were unscathed.
Despite the earthquake scare, Eppinga retains a love for his home state. “I know I’m biased, but in my mind it’s the best state,” he said. “We’d play baseball 12 months a year and almost always have great weather.”
When Eppinga decided to follow his older brother, Dirk, to Calvin to play baseball four years ago, he was ill prepared for the cold Michigan weather in the winter. “I was blown away by the winters here at first,” he said. “I had never practiced in a gym before, but when you’re in Michigan, that’s just the way it is when you’re preparing for the start of a season.”
A three-sport standout at Contra Costa Christian High School, Eppinga also had to adjust to a reserve role during his first year on a Calvin baseball team that would capture the 2000 MIAA title and advance to the NCAA III Tournament. “It was definitely a learning experience,” said Eppinga with a grin. “I did a lot of bullpen catching that year.
“When you come into college, you have to earn your playing time,” he continued. “The other thing that I discovered was that if you stick with it, you’ll get your shot. That’s one of the things I’ve tried to impress on some of the younger guys on the team this year.”
As a sophomore in 2001, Eppinga batted .407 in a limited role off the bench. In 2002, he blossomed as Calvin’s full-time designated hitter, batting .336 with 29 RBIs to earn first team All-MIAA honors.
The highlight of Eppinga’s 2002 campaign was a game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning in a 5-4 victory over rival Hope in the regular season finale for both teams. Heading into a season-ending, three-game series with Hope, Calvin needed a three-game sweep to overtake the nationally ranked Flying Dutchmen and win the MIAA title. Calvin did just that, winning all three games in come-from-behind fashion—with Eppinga’s RBI single in game three putting the capper on a thrilling season.
“That was definitely the best moment I’ve ever experienced in sports,” said Eppinga. “As the series went along, our confidence got higher and higher. Even when we fell behind by three runs in the last game, we felt like we would come back, and we did.”
As a senior this spring, Eppinga served as Calvin’s starting first baseman and batted .346, with a team-leading 31 RBIs. He also collected 10 extra-base hits, including two home runs. His efforts earned him team MVP honors in a vote by his teammates.
Despite his extra-base hits, Eppinga does not fit the mold of a typical power hitter. “I’m not a natural pull hitter,” said Eppinga. “I have more of an inside-outside swing and about 75 percent of my hits have been to right-centerfield, but our hitting coach Tyler Amidon told me to go with my natural swing and it’s worked.”
According to Eppinga, nothing beats stepping to the plate with a chance to hit a baseball. “Hitting a baseball is the most fun I’ve had in any sport,” said Eppinga. “There’s nothing like taking a swing and hitting a ball perfectly. It’s such a clean feeling.”
An economics major with a business administration minor, Eppinga will complete his degree this summer; his plans after that are uncertain. “I’ve thought about looking for a job in Chicago,” said Eppinga. “I’ve been to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play, and it’s an awesome place to watch a baseball game. No matter where I end up, I’ll always be a big baseball fan."
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