By John Manuel
Oklahoma State was already an established power under coach Gary Ward, having made five straight trips to the College World Series, when a freshman arrived on campus in the fall of 1985.
The previous spring, the Cowboys had produced one of the greatest seasons in the history of college baseball, when outfielder Pete Incaviglia hit .464-48-143, setting single-season records for home runs and RBIs that still stand. Robin Ventura was part of a touted recruiting class expected to replace Inky.
In Baseball Americas 1986 College Preview, we noted that Ventura was one of three talented shortstops Ward and recruiting coordinator Tom Holliday had signed, along with Monty Fariss and Bryn Kosco. While Fariss was a seventh-round pick out of high school and Kosco a 15th-rounder, Ventura wasnt drafted.
Ward soon discovered the scouts had missed something. He moved Ventura to third and realized he wouldnt need to worry about that position for a while.
He recalled a lesson during Venturas freshman season when Ward showed him how to use his hands and legs to drive the ball. In an exhibiton game two days later against Triple-A Oklahoma City, Ventura put his lesson to use, smoking a home run and drilling two line
drives to the warning track.
"Ventura looked like a guy who learned the game through osmosis," Ward said in 1994. "From that moment of the Triple-A game on, I realized he didnt need me. It was like being a tennis coach for Martina Navratilova."
Ventura went on to a stunning debut, hitting .469-21-96, leading the nation in RBIs and runs (107). Ward said Ventura got better as he went along that year.
That was just prelude to his run at history in 1987. The Division I hitting-streak record was 47, a mark Ventura tied on the last day of the regular season. After he broke Phil Stephensons record, all that was left was Joe DiMaggios magic mark of 56. He tied it with a solo home run in his first try, in the first inning of an 11-9 win against Texas A&M.
The streak, which garnered national attention, finally ended at 58 in the College World Series, as Stanfords Jack McDowell and reliever Al Osuna held Ventura hitless in four trips.
"Its the kind of thing where you dont really want to break it because you hate to see something like that end," McDowell said after the game. "Its so good for
The 1987 College Player of the Year, Ventura finished the season hitting .428-21-110 and leading the nation in RBIs again. His junior season, when he batted .391-24-88, made him the only position player to earn three first-team All-America honors in BA history.
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