As the team’s lone captain and unequivocal leader, Nick Madrigal — along with coach Pat Casey — is the face of Oregon State baseball in 2018.
But a captain is only as good as his crew, a detail the reigning Pac-12 player of the year openly acknowledges at every opportunity.
“I’ve always wanted to be the leader,” Madrigal said Tuesday afternoon before the second-ranked Beavers headed to Surprise, Arizona, for Friday’s season-opening matchup with New Mexico. “I enjoy it, but this group really leads itself in a way.
“This team is very special with how many leaders it has.”
The abundance of leadership was apparent to Casey way back in the fall of 2016, months after OSU was curiously passed over for an NCAA tournament at-large berth. The snub provided boundless motivation for the Beavers, who surged to a school-record 56 wins while reaching the College World Series in 2017.
First baseman KJ Harrison, outfielder Christian Donahue and pitchers Jake Thompson and Max Engelbrekt are the only regulars who have moved on. The bulk of the team is back for another national title push, following Madrigal’s lead each day in practice.
“Nick Madrigal is our captain, he is the captain,” said Casey, who owns an overall record of 845-446-5 entering season No. 24 at OSU. “(Madrigal) is the guy, but we have leadership coming from many, many different places.”
OSU has a quartet of seniors — Jack Anderson, Kyle Nobach, Michael Gretler and Luke Heimlich — on the 2018 roster, matching the 2015 squad for the most in the past four seasons. All four senior leaders possess multiple years of starting experience.
Returning two-year starting shortstop Cadyn Grenier is also a leader, as is sophomore catcher Adley Rutschman, junior outfielder Trevor Larnach and junior pitchers Bryce Fehmel and Sam Tweedt.
“I feel like there is not just one leader in particular, besides Nick,” Fehmel said. “We are all coming together and we are all pushing each other to be better every single day, and it’s pretty special.”
Casey’s OSU teams have featured as many as five captains, but the coach prefers to have two.
A one-captain approach is new for the legendary skipper.
“Usually you have two but there were so many guys that could fill that role, and I mean so many guys,” Casey said. “So I just said ‘Nick, you’re our captain.’ And I think it’s good for Nick because he’s a quiet, humble human being.”
Madrigal was the Pac-12 freshman of the year in 2016 and was voted a team captain alongside Drew Rasmussen for the 2017 season.
The duo established a work ethic that became contagious throughout the locker room. OSU went on to capture the Pac-12 title en route to a 56-6 final record.
“Those are some top-notch leaders,” Larnach said of Madrigal and Rasmussen. “They know how to drive that mentality into us, they know how to bring a certain energy to each and every day. They were fantastic and really they led us all the way to Omaha.”
Rasmussen, a right-handed pitcher, was drafted 31st overall in June by the Tampa Bay Rays but didn’t sign a contract. He wound up having a second Tommy John surgery last summer and will not pitch in 2018.
Though not on the roster, Rasmussen remains in school and is often around the team. He was a spectator during Tuesday’s practice at Goss Stadium.
“(Rasmussen) running around the ballpark … just doing his deal, being around it a little bit and showing up and saying hi to guys is leadership in my mind,” Casey said. “I just think we have leadership in many different areas.”
It’s not uncommon for Casey to cede control of practices to Madrigal and the players.
Madrigal likes to think that the coaching staff establishes the general direction for each session, but it’s on the players to lead the way.
“I’ve always believed in that,” Madrigal said. “I always wanted to set a good example for my teammates and try to show up every single day, whether it’s a game or practice, and try to give it everything I have so it will spread to other guys.”
There’s no reason to quibble with the management strategy.
OSU’s players have taken control of the program, establishing a work ethic befitting of a national power.
“The coaches step in when they need to, but if we as players see something that needs to be fixed, we will take it upon ourselves to stop practice and take care of what needs to be taken care of,” Fehmel said.