April 19, 2000
By Chic Perkins
Santa Barbara News-Press
SANTA BARBARA - Third base is called "the hot corner" in baseball for good reason.
UCSB's Dave Molidor found that out the hard way a year-and-a-half ago.
Molidor, just a sophomore, had been asked early in the 1998 season by Gaucho head coach Bob Brontsema to make the switch from first base to third.
But in one tough road loss to Loyola Marymount, things got a little too hot for the young man. He made a couple critical errors, marking rock bottom for a player who already had "started questioning myself," as Molidor put it.
"After the game I told the team we needed to play better defense," Brontsema recalled. "He took affront to that, as if I was talking directly to him. I wasn't, I was talking about the team."
The following Monday a player-coach meeting took place that had fortuitous consequences for Gaucho baseball.
"He said he felt he had let the team down, and he was hurt . . . " Brontsema said. "He also said maybe he should move back to first base because it'd be better for the team.
"I told him he was the best player for that position, and that I had the upmost confidence in his ability to play there, or else I wouldn't have made the switch.
"That seemed to change him. He became a diffferent person, and different player. At the end of the year, he was as good, if not the best, third baseman in the league. That statement still stands today."
It's a tall statement for a tall player. Molidor stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 228 pounds.
Molidor points to his meeting with Brontsema as a turnaround point in his college career. "I'll never forget that talk," he said. "I wasn't believing it myself. He kept telling me I could do it.
"He believed in me, and I developed confidence after Coach and I had that talk."
That confidence showed not only in his play on the field, but at the plate as well. Molidor finished his sophomore season hitting .361and earned honorable mention on the All-Big West Conference team.
"The power of his mind is very strong," Brontsema reflected. "He can really direct his mind into positive things."
Those positives have flourished this year. Heading into a crucial three-game series at home starting Thursday against first-place Long Beach State, Molidor's carrying a team-high .391 average, fourth highest in the Big West. As the Gauchos' cleanup hitter, he's also delivered in the clutch with 40 RBIs, tied with Chad Peshke for the team high.
The transformation of the big guy to a college third baseman took some time to develop. Molidor played shortstop at Cardinal Newman High in Santa Rosa, but even he conceded, "My shortstop days pretty much ended in high school."
Molidor, a communications major from Cardinal Newman High in Santa Rosa, enrolled in the fall of 1996 at UCSB for academic reasons. By his own admission he was better at basketball than baseball in high school, and he wasn't even considering going out for the Gaucho baseball team until a friend goaded him into trying out.
"He was a walk-on in a true sense," Brontsema said, "and we kept him only because he was big and somewhat athletic. He threw well, he had a good arm, and that was his only redeeming value, other than he was big."
Molidor reminded Brontsema of another big walk-on freshman, David Willis, who went on to set the school career record with 41 home runs over the 1994-97 seasons.
"Both were walk-ons, both are big guys, both are good players," Brontsema said. "It's a bit of a natural comparison."
Willis' position, first base, was the position the Gaucho coaching staff had in mind for Molidor, who redshirted his first year in the program.
"He really didn't have good hands initially," said Brontsema, who considered converting Molidor into a pitcher during his redshirt season.
"But he wasn't too up on it," the coach said.
Early in his freshman year, an attitude adjustment was also in order. "I don't remember what he did exactly," Brontsema said, "but one day we sent him home.
"When we called him back, he came back as a different guy, on a maturity level. He was a little more serious, a little more dedicated."
All seriousness aside, there's a flip side to Molidor's nature. "There's a closet comedian in there," Brontsema disclosed. "I don't see it too much. I understand he does a mean Coach Brontsema impression. He doesn't do it too often. Rumor has it he's a Rich Little in the making.
"He's a soft-spoken guy on the one hand, and he's somewhat a jokester on the other. Must be the Leo in him."
Brontsema and Molidor share the same astrological sign -- and same birthdate, August 9.
Brontsema takes it all in good fun. "I think that's great baseball stuff," he said. "Imitation in good humor is good humor."
Molidor is no laughing matter for opposing pitchers, though. He hit for a .301 average his freshman year over 38 starts at first base and designated hitter. Hitting's never been a problem.
Going into Molidor's sophomore year, Brontsema thought Justin Gemoll was going to be his starting third baseman, until Gemoll transferred to USC. So Bryan LaCour was set to play there, but the senior struggled at the position.
So one day Brontsema asked Molidor, who had played shortstop in high school, to take some ground balls at third. "I didn't think he was serous," Molidor said.
"He was starting to develop some good soft hands," Brontsema noted. "There was some ability there.
"I knew Molidor had much better potential than we were getting out of Bryan LaCour. And LaCour was a great player for us."
"I think (LaCour) was more comfortable at first," Molidor said in reflecting back. "He was a better first baseman than third baseman. I think it was a good switch."
Last summer, Molidor sharpened his fielding skills playing a whole season at third base for a team at Front Royal, Va. "I played pretty good defense out there," he said.
That has carried on into this season, which put Brontsema in a bit of a dilemma. Redshirt freshman Jon Stephens, who Brontsema considers the team's third baseman of the future, has been "pushed by Dave into a DH role, a spot player here and there," the coach said. "Jon needs to get in there and play next year."
Next year for Molidor may depend on what happens in this year's major league draft.
"We think he wouldn't be hurt with another year of ball in college," Brontsema said. "We'd love to have him back.
"He's one of the guys we're pushing to scouts, and there's some interest in him. He has a chance to be drafted much like Willis. Willis came back in his fifth year, and did a little bit better in the draft than the year before."
Unlike Willis, Molidor has not shown much proclivity for the long ball. He hit only four homers his freshman year, eight last year, and has cleared the fence only four times so far this year, unbecoming of a player his size.
"I'm kind of disappointed I haven't hit more homers," Molidor admitted. "The (batting) average is fine, doubles (14) are okay.
"I'm not playing for the scouts or anybody. But, when scouts call me, the first thing they ask me is how many home runs have I hit."
"He's hit for average more than for power, and that may be a source of frustration for him," Brontsema acknowledged.
"But I think he's got a pro future because of how much he's improved, how far he's come, how much futher he can go. He needs to make some adjustments in his swing, a little more lift in his swing, something the pros will want to see from him. But I think he's a good pro prospect, based on the fact he's a real hard worker, and we haven't seen the best of his game yet."
Molidor, who grew up as an Oakland A's fan, probably wouldn't mind following his friend and former Gaucho pitcher Barry Zito as an A's draft pick. But he says he'll worry about the draft after this season is over.
If pro baseball is not in his future, Molidor has other plans.
"Dave is going to graduate, he's a very good student," Brontsema noted.
Last fall Molidor did a daily 15-minute sports show on KCSB, the school radio stadion. "I had a lot of fun with that," he said."
I like doing radio, doing voice-overs.
"If baseball doesn't work, I'd like to go to a broadcast school in Arizona, go there for eight months, and get a pretty good job out of that afterwards," Molidor said.
There's no telling what Molidor could do if he puts his mind to it.