Feb. 3, 2006
by Kyle McRae
When John Hester was one of six Stanford juniors selected in the 2005 MLB First-Year Player Draft last June, no one would have faulted him for taking the same road as his five college teammates did -- signing a professional baseball contract and realizing a childhood dream.
But Hester had other thoughts on his mind.
Dissatisfied with the feeling he had after Stanford's subpar 2005 campaign, Hester decided to return for his senior season on The Farm.
"Last year really didn't go the way I or any of us really wanted it to," Hester said about a 34-25 campaign that ended with a loss to Baylor in the championship game of the NCAA Waco Regional. "I feel like myself and everyone else still has something to prove."
"I didn't want last season to go down as my only year as a starter here," he continued. "It just came down to the fact that I really wanted another chance to see what I can do at Stanford."
Maybe Hester feels this way because it took him so long just to get much of a chance at all to show what he could do for the Cardinal. He joined Stanford as a highly touted player in 2003 but soon found himself as the No. 3 catcher in a ridiculously talented trio that also included Ryan Garko and Donny Lucy, who have both now moved on to the professional ranks.
Hester made just seven starts in his first two seasons with Garko handling the majority of the backstop duties in 2003 and Lucy taking over the following year.
"With three guys competing for the job, you would think there would have been some animosity between us," recalled Hester about the situation. "There was an element of competition, but that was it. We all got along great, and I learned a lot from those two guys. Without them, I wouldn't be as far along as a player as I am today."
"I think I handled the situation well," Hester analyzed. "I knew I had to be patient and wait my turn, but I also knew that I wanted to hit the ground running and be ready when I got my chance."
That opportunity came last season when Hester moved into a starting role. He ended up making starts in 58 of the team's 59 contests and playing every inning behind the plate in each of those games. Hester established himself as a team leader who made quite an impression on a pitching staff that recorded a stellar 3.77 ERA.
"Every pitcher is different," he explained about his philosophy of handling pitching staffs. "Some guys you have to calm down because they are too excited, while other guys you have to make sure are focused because they try to stay too relaxed. My job is to know all of their styles and make sure I do whatever I need to in order to make them perform at their highest level."
Not only was he an outstanding defensive catcher in his first season as a full-time starter, Hester also responded with a solid .282 batting average, five homers, 41 RBI and seven stolen bases.
He is hoping for even bigger things from himself and the team this year.
"I think everything is different this season," Hester replied. "We have something to prove. Nobody thinks we're that good. We know we can be, but we can't take anything for granted. We have to have a better work ethic and play harder than we did last year."
That's the kind of work Hester didn't want to miss.