Off The Wall With Santa Clara’s Steven Wilson

Image credit: Santa Clara righthander Steven Wilson (Courtesy of Don Jedlovec / Santa Clara Athletics)

Santa Clara has been one of this season’s biggest surprises. The Broncos are off to a 13-5 start, matching last season’s win total, and last weekend opened West Coast Conference play with a series win at San Diego, one of the conference’s perennial powers.

The Broncos have been reinvigorated by first-year coach Rusty Filter, who last summer came to Santa Clara after spending eight years as Stanford’s pitching coach. He inherited a veteran team and has quickly worked to turn around a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2008.

Among those veteran players is righthander Steven Wilson, the Broncos’ Friday starter. Wilson, a sixth-year senior, has helped lead the staff this season and is 3-0, 2.51 with 21 strikeouts and six walks in 14.1 innings.

Wilson and the Broncos face a big series this weekend, as they host St. Mary’s, the preseason WCC favorite. Baseball America caught up with Wilson to talk about the Broncos’ impressive start to the season.

What has been the key to the way you guys have started this season?

“The biggest thing for us is, one, having a lot of older guys, a lot of veterans on this team. I think we have 13 (four-year players). That group, we’ve been through a lot together in the past years. The chemistry we’ve built and everybody is on the same page. I feel like this is one of the first times its been like that since I’ve been in Santa Clara. We’re all on the same page, we all want the same thing and it’s working out right now.”

You personally are off to a strong start. What’s been the key for you?

“This is the best my body has ever felt. We got a great trainer, Stan Conte, that coach Filter brought in. Our strength coach Zac Harris, they’ve just put together awesome programs in the past year. Everybody’s body is feeling good. I think the programming on the physical aspect has been really nice. Keeping guys fresh and healthy for the season. This is probably the healthiest we’ve been in the six years I’ve been here. We had an off day on Monday and its finals week for us. I went down to the weight room – luckily I had no finals – and there’s about 15 guys in the weight room on an off day on finals week. People are bought in and doing whatever it takes to win right now.”

What has coach Filter brought to the team this year?

“He’s brought a new life to guys. There were guys that were kind of over baseball, thinking about not playing anymore. I was kind of in the same boat. I had (Tommy John surgery) last year, didn’t know what my future was. And Filter came in and he brought a certain level of energy and excitement. It’s kind of that way with new coaches in general but this has been over the top. He’s motivated guys that needed a kick in the (butt). He’s brought everybody on the same page and brought the energy, brought the excitement back to Santa Clara and everybody’s hopping on board and just riding the play right now.”

Who is the best hitter you’ve faced in your career?

“In my career – wow, that’s a lot of people. One of them was Ian Happ. You couldn’t throw a ball anywhere near the zone without him putting it in play, usually for a hit. He was one of them. Bryson Brigman at San Diego I always had a tough time with. I think I got the best of him a couple times, but he got the best of me. If I didn’t redshirt, it would have been Kris Bryant. He was a junior my freshman year. He kind of tore us up that year. This year, I’d say James Outman for Sacramento State. He’s kind of the same way. He’s hitting the wall wherever it’s at in the zone and he’s really aggressive and was really good at making contact. A lot of guys that are aggressive foul off a lot of pitches, but he wasn’t fouling off pitches. He was barreling the ball pretty frequently.”

What is your favorite part of playing baseball for Santa Clara?

“Everything as a whole. We’ve got a beautiful ballpark, the school is great – it’s a good academic school, great network, there’s an alumni network especially for athletics that’s unbelievable. The weather, you can’t complain. Coming from Colorado, something I was looking forward to leaving high school was getting to a warm-weather state so I didn’t have to shovel off my baseball field anymore. The weather, the location right in the Silicon Valley, there’s endless opportunities here outside of baseball and with baseball. This year, just playing for Filter. He and I have clicked this year and it’s been great.”

What is your walkup song this season and why did you choose it?

“My walkup song is ‘Broken People’ by Logic and Rag’n’Bone Man. It’s from the movie Will Smith came out with called ‘Bright.’ The first time I heard it was over winter break and I was watching that movie. It kind of got the emotions going with me. Coming back from Tommy John last year, kind of like the broken people chorus. I know that’s not what they’re singing about. The first verse talking about hitting adversity and no one thinking you’re going to make it and you end up making it. It gets the emotions going a little bit and fires me up when I’m on the bump.”

What is your go-to order at Chipotle?

“I actually went there last night. Burrito bowl – I stay away from tortillas when I can, brown rice, black beans, extra fajita veggies, chicken – sometimes double chicken. I’m kind of out of the ordinary because people don’t really like their queso for some reason, but I really like their queso so I’m getting the queso. And then I go the verde salsa, the corn, light sour cream and lettuce. And then I always throw the Chipotle Tabasco Sauce on there. I eat a lot of Chipotle.”

I understand your nickname is “Grandpa.” Where does that come from?

“I think it’s just because I’m a sixth year. I got a medical redshirt so I’ve been around here a long time. I’m 23 now. I’m not the oldest guy on the team, surprisingly, Penn Murfee, he’s a transfer from Vanderbilt, he’s a fifth year. He turned 23 in May and I turned 23 in August, so he’s got a few months on me. He’s the real grandpa, but I go along with it. it’s fun. I give the guys some crap sometimes because I have one of the top 60 times this year. I go, ‘You guys keep calling me Grandpa, but you keep letting me beat you, so you guys keep talking all you want.’”

What are your goals for the rest of the season?

“It’s more team based. I’ve thrown enough. I just want the team to win, honestly. It’s been so much fun. This has been the funnest season since I’ve been at Santa Clara. I would love to win every series from here on out and get back to Stockton (for the WCC Tournament). We went there my sophomore year and it was a lot of fun, we had a good run in conference. Just have that chance to play some postseason baseball and see what we can do with it.”

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