Brian Lentz, the oldest member of the Harvard baseball team and recent Seattle Mariners signee, spoke to Harvard coach Joe Walsh after the team lost to Princeton in the Ivy League championship series in late May.
“He told me, ‘I’m gonna come back here and see some championships,’” Walsh recalls. “He said we’ve got a great nucleus here.”
When it came to picking The Crimson’s male rookie of the year, we needed to look no further than the reason in the rhyme of the ancient Mariner-to-be. Congratulations, nucleus. Freshman baseball players Zak Farkes, Josh Klimkiewicz and Lance Salsgiver made it abundantly clear that there couldn’t be a single recipient of the award. There had to be three.
How, after all, could you single out just one?
Would you go with Farkes, as the Ivy League did when naming its Rookie of the Year? Would you go with the guy who led the Crimson in home runs (8) and walks (25) as a freshman, batting .308? The kid who saw the ball better heading to the plate than anyone on the team, turning each at-bat into a seven- or eight-pitch ordeal?
Would you go with Salsgiver, as the very same Ivy League did when naming the neophyte to its All–Ivy second team (Klimkiewicz and Farkes were honorable mention selections), and go with the guy who lead the team in stolen bases (17 in 19 attempts) while pounding out 56 hits, one off the team lead? Would you go with the five-tool kid who had the best season of the three defensively, throwing strikes to the plate from right field and, eventually, the mound?
Would you go with Klimkiewicz, as the New England Intercollegiate Coaches Association did when it quietly named the third baseman a third-team Division I All-Star and an alternate to play in its All-Star Game last week at Fenway Park? Would you go with the guy who battled the lingering effects of an ACL tear but still knocked in a team-high 33 runs? Would you go with the power presence who stepped up the most when the Crimson’s best player, junior Trey Hendricks, went down after knee surgery? The guy who hit seven homers on the year, with every one of them seeming to tilt a critical Red Rolfe Division game?
It’s no easy task, picking a single winner from an All-Star recruiting troika. Go ahead, ask Walsh to choose from among his freshmen.
Freshmen? What freshmen?
“Those guys weren’t freshmen to me when they came up to bat at the end of the year,” Walsh says. “They were just guys in the varsity lineup whom I was really glad to see when they got up there.”
Just guys in a varsity lineup that had lost the overwhelming majority of its position players to graduation in 2002, the rookie trio quickly established themselves as heart-of-the-order hitters for the next three years and ensured that 2003 would be anything but a rebuilding campaign.
Whether it was Farkes’ precision at-bats, Salsgiver’s alarmingly effective first-pitch flails or Klimkiewicz’s massive cuts, the three produced almost immediately.
But just as important as the hits was the heart the three displayed.
Klimkiewicz never complained about having to learn a new position after playing shortstop alongside Farkes at Cambridge’s BB&N, nor did he whine about having to do so while recovering from the ACL tear that had sidelined him the previous year. He simply battled through an early-season slump and recovered well enough to keep the Crimson in the league race, including knocking in all four Harvard runs in a backs-to-the-wall game two of the Ivy League championship series win that extended the season a day.
Salsgiver looked like he was born in right field. The Michigan native made eye-popping catches while theoretically playing “out of position” after being an infielder in high school. He also answered the call when he resumed an injury-interrupted pitching career by making a relief appearance in the title game against Princeton, hurling two-plus shutout innings and hitting 92 mph on the radar gun with his first pitch.
Farkes struggled mightily at times in the field as he got adjusted to playing second base on a Division I level. Yet he never let the occasional botched grounder detract from the rest of his game. And despite his prowess when swinging—Lentz summed it up succinctly in the preseason by proclaiming that Farkes simply “hits the crap out of the ball at all times”—Farkes was always ready to lay down a bunt for a base hit when necessary, if only because it was one of so many ways in which he could uniquely contribute to the team.
Where there were homers, there was humility. Where there were doubles, there was also double-duty. Where there were sacrifices, there were…other sacrifices.
“I think that there are three or four kids on our team that were equally deserving,” Farkes said when he was awarded the Ivy League rookie honor. And he’s right. And that is why, with a respectful doff of the cap to fencing’s Tim Hagamen and squash’s Will Broadbent, the award goes to the baseball trio. The sheer depth of young talent represents more than individual excellence but the start of something potentially very special behind Harvard Stadium. Be prepared to go back there and see some championships.