Peter Van Gansen professional baseball career got off to a great start in June.
The Tri-City Dust Devils shortstop singled in his first pro at-bat in a 3-1 loss in Boise and showed some early power with two home runs in his first 11 games.
He didn’t neccessarily want to talk about his strong start, but his teammates did.
“He doesn’t gloat. Other guys will say things. (After his second home run), they said he was going to go 30-30 (30 stolen bases, 30 home runs),” Dust Devils manager Anthony Contreras said. “I said, ‘Pete, you’re going to go 30-30?’
“He said, ‘I didn’t say that.’ He’s humble about that stuff.”
Van Gansen, a 12th-round draft pick by the San Diego Padres out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, would much rather talk about his teammates. He’s got a good story about Tri-City first baseman Ty France, with whom he played on a select travel team for four years in high school.
“We were beating a team pretty bad, so he just decided to go up left-handed one time. The crazy thing is, the first pitch was up at his eyes and he swung and hit it to deep center field, over the fence. I swear on my life,” Van Gansen said. “We were all in shock. I asked him, ‘How did you do that?’ He was like, ‘I don’t know. I just did it.’ ”
Now that he’s in the Northwest League, Van Gansen is surrounded by multi-tool players who can raise eyebrows on every play. But that just motivates him even more to succeed.
“It shows me how many good ballplayers there are in the world,” he said. “Seeing everyone from across the world with the same dream I have (shows me) how hard I have to work to achieve that goal.”
Van Gansen, the 2015 Big West Conference defensive player of the year, has made quite an impression in his first season. Heading into Saturday’s doubleheader in Vancouver, Van Gansen was seventh in the NWL in hitting at .312, tied for third with 39 hits and 10th in total bases (53). He ranks among the Dust Devils leaders in runs (21, 2nd), RBIs (17, 2nd), stolen bases (5, 3rd) and slugging percentage (.424, 2nd).
He also leads all NWL shortstops with a .977 fielding percentage, committing just three errors in 128 chances.
But for everything Van Gansen does to fill up a stat sheet, it’s the things he does that don’t show up in the box score that make a big difference to the coaching staff.
“What’s not to like? His approach is simple. See the ball, put the head of the bat on it. He doesn’t try to do too much,” Tri-City hitting coach Marvin Benard said. “If you look at all of our wins this year, some way or another he’s got his nose in it somehow. If we have a good rally, it often starts with him.”
Contreras, a former minor-league infielder, has a special appreciation for Van Gansen’s defensive abilities.
“At his size (5-foot-10), you’re not going to get to balls that a 6-4 shortstop would get to. He anticipates. He reads pitches. He seeks out where they’re going to hit it,” Contreras said. “He might cheat a little bit to the hole. Fans will see him making a great diving play, but what they don’t see is him taking the two steps to right before the play.”
His pitchers love watching him work too.
“I told someone the other night that he’s one of the best shortstops I’ve ever seen. He can get to a lot of balls, he’s got a very good arm and he’s got a good approach at the plate,” Tri-City pitcher Walker Lockett said. “Shortstop is kind of a captain position. He’s definitely the type of guy you want there. He’s a team player and a great guy.”
It helped Van Gansen a great deal to have a close friend like France on hand to ease the transition from college to pro ball.
“It was awesome to be drafted on the same team. We called each other right away and asked when we were going up,” he said. “As soon as he got drafted (in Round 34), he asked me if I wanted to be his throwing partner.”
Right now, Van Gansen is loving where he is and what he’s doing. He appreciates his teammates as much as they value him.
“Team chemistry is unreal right now. We’re enjoying the moment and having a blast,” Van Gansen said. “We all trust each other and know if one of us doesn’t get the job done, somebody else will come and pick us up.”