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Gambo: The ‘redhead’ is the talk of the CWS

It was last fall when ASU baseball coach Pat Murphy and his staff were discussing recruiting junior college players. Jokingly Murphy told his staff to find him a short, left-handed hitter who was also a redhead and he would think about it.

Murphy rationalized that a red head had to be tough and said that he had never met a red-headed kid who didn’t play the game the right way.

The next day coach Josh Holliday brought in a picture of Yavapai’s, Kole Calhoun and told Murphy “here’s your redhead.”

The next line of this story should be that a star was born. But that’s just not the case.

The pudgy 5-10, 200-pound product of Buckeye, Arizona struggled mightily through his first few months of big time Division I baseball.

After tearing it up in junior college — hitting .413 with 18 homers and 59 runs batted — last season when he was a honorable mention NJCAA All-American, Calhoun couldn’t make the adjustments neccessary to hit at the next level.
He came out of the gates with just three hits in his first 24 at bats and things didn’t get much better from there.

By the end of April he was hitting .209 and couldn’t stay in the lineup on a regular basis. When he was in the lineup he at times found himself hitting 7th and 8th. There were even occasions where he was pinch hit for.

Things changed for Calhoun and Arizona State around the Oregon State series in early May. Murphy gave the outfielder/pitcher an ultimatum.

Either make big changes or don’t play.

Call it tough love or a wake up call but whatever it was it worked. Murphy felt that Calhoun was bringing nothing to the table and that he needed to make some major adjustments to his swing. The big step and leg kick needed to go and in its place needed to come a short, compact swing that would enable him to make contact and drive the ball. Faced with the option of sitting on the bench and rotting or fixing his game, he chose the latter.

Just six weeks after a coach to player heart-to-heart, Calhoun is the talk of the College World Series. After his game-tying grand slam and go-ahead double propelled the Sun Devils to a come-from-behind 12-5 win over North Carolina Thursday, Calhoun is hitting an impressive .304 with 12 home runs with 17 doubles and 52 runs batted in.

Through three games of the College World Series the “redhead” has hit three home runs and drove in 10 runs to lead Arizona State. He hit two of his home runs in the Series off of tough left-hander Brian Moran of the Tar Heels. His grand slam Thursday came on a 3-2 pitch from Moran with ASU down 4-0 and facing elimination.

With credentials like he has, it is somewhat amazing that Calhoun went undrafted last week in the Major League Baseball draft. But he is getting noticed and don’t be surprised if several teams show some interest in signing the junior when his time in Omaha is over.

Right now Calhoun’s main focus is on beating Texas Friday and keeping the Sun Devils alive.

Arizona State may be the youngest and most inexperienced team in the College World Series — in fact they are the most inexperienced Division I baseball team among all five major conference teams with just eight returning players on the 25-man roster and only five who have played Division I baseball. But that inexperience hasn’t kept the Sun Devils from being one of four teams left standing in what has clearly been the best coaching job of Murphy’s remarkable 1,000-win career.

And while contributions have come from many, it’s hard not to look back to last fall when Murphy kidded his staff about finding a JC redhead and point to that day as a key reason why ASU is still playing in late June.