April 19, 2007
By James Schleicher
With two men on base in the ninth inning of a game against UC Riverside, Husky first baseman Curt Rindal stepped up to the plate against pitcher Joe Kelly, who had yet to have a run scored against him this season. After fouling off pitch after pitch, Rindal finally saw the one he wanted and blasted it through the gap between short and third.
The ball streamed out onto the grass as Jake Rife rounded third and scored the winning run to complete a three-game sweep of UCR.
This is a perfect example of what Rindal does best.
"I was just trying to fight there with two strikes," Rindal said. "He hung one up and I did what I did with it."
With a closer look at what this 23-year-old redshirt senior does during every at-bat, one can see that hitting is almost second nature to him now. His physical ability, organization, ability to take advice and use it and spirit of competition all play a role.
One of the biggest forces comes in his ability to push himself. But to him the formula has all been simplified.
When he talks about hitting, his smile seems to echo his love of the game and the challenges it gives him.
"I like competing, but the thing I like most is hitting," Rindal said. "I love to hit, and man, I like hitting home runs. It's always been something I've worked at and gotten better at, and I think that's why I play, maybe, is to hit."
Before Rindal even steps into the batter's box, he takes a few deep breaths to calm himself and focus on the task at hand.
"All I'm thinking is, get my foot down and go," Rindal said.
This calmness and focus may have developed on the Skagit River while fishing quietly with his father and brothers. He may have learned it while sitting nearby in a marsh, hunting ducks with lifelong friend Travis Storrer. It shows in the most pressure-filled situations, as Rindal seems to just calmly stay focused on connecting with the ball.
He usually sees it pretty well. This eye for the ball comes from some 15 years of having pitches thrown to him. It shows in his .346 batting average.
At age 8, Rindal started playing baseball and met Storrer. The two would soon become almost inseparable. They started playing on the same baseball team at age 10, when they outgrew slow pitch and started playing fast pitch with the older 12-year-olds.
In their free time, the two would almost inevitably end up hitting balls in Storrer's barn, where he had a batting cage, or in Rindal's rec room, where he had a pitching machine for wiffle balls.
"He'd come over and we'd want to go do something, and we'd wind up just staying up there and hitting," Rindal said. "We'd make games of it and that's where we got the most practice."
Rindal's mother Teresa said the two were characters.
"They would egg each other on, and it was kind of like `iron sharpens iron,'" she said. "They would practice, and shoot these fly balls up in space, and then they'd practice catching fly balls."
Rindal said playing baseball has always been an activity he loved to do.
"It was never something we were forced to do at all, and I think that's why I'm still playing it," Rindal said. "That's what makes it fun, that you can't take it too serious. I look forward to going out and playing [in the big leagues]."
Now years later, all the hard work has obviously paid off. Rindal leads the Huskies in home runs (8), RBI (37) and hits (47).
"He's always been a hard worker," Storrer said. "He's got a really good strong family background, and he believes in the Lord. He's just an all-around great guy."
Along with their hours upon hours of hitting practice, Rindal and Storrer also played other sports to stay in shape for baseball during high school. At Mount Vernon High, they played doubles tennis, where they won a league championship, and played on the basketball team.
Then, of course, came baseball in the spring, where both played pivotal roles in helping their team to two top-five finishes in the state.
Teresa Rindal said her son's competitive nature and athletic ability showed up at an early age.
"His brothers, if they would race, they all had to have numbers, they had to have a start and finish line," she said. "He was always competitive."
Growing up as the middle child in a pack of five, Curt had the best of both worlds. His older brother and sister set the example for him and gave him a way to follow, while he tried to lead his two younger brothers.
"At home he's just a hard worker; his dad taught him how to work hard and re-finish [his] desk and do things like that," Storrer said.
His mother homeschooled the five children through eighth grade and taught them how to motivate themselves and take initiative. Along with school lessons, the Rindals taught their children how to work by teaching them to do jobs like mowing the fields on their 28-acre property in Conway, Wash., or cleaning their father's chiropractic clinic.
"We just had opportunities for them to learn how to work and have a job," she said. "His dad was always out with them showing them what to do, and then they could go do that."
Instead of mentioning professional baseball players or coaches, Rindal said that his dad was the person he looked up to the most in life.
"He's been a big influence in my life, teaching me about hard work and having a work ethic," Rindal said.
This work ethic shows both on and off the field. Rindal earned his economics degree in four years, despite the demands of baseball practice and games.
Last year, when Rindal did not get picked up in the Major League draft, teams told him that the biggest factor for not picking him was history. Despite the fact he was All-Pac-10, he had only one big year in the Husky lineup because of his sophomore year injury. He played backup to Kyle Larsen his junior year.
"I had a good year and played well enough that I figured I would get picked up, and once I didn't it was disappointing," Rindal said. "I had to make that decision to come back, but at this point I still want to keep playing. I still want to pursue it, but if I don't [get picked], I've done everything I can."
This year, as the Huskies' lone senior, most of his longtime friends on the team have graduated and been drafted.
"It's different not having any of those guys I've been playing with for years," Rindal said. "But it's been great; I like the guys that I'm playing with. I'm glad to be back and still be playing."
On the team, he has led by example with his hard work at the plate and good defense at first. The draft in June sits on the horizon, but before that he will try to make sure the Huskies make the playoffs - he'll see what happens from there.
If he makes it, Rindal looks forward to playing even more and finding new challenges at the next level. If he does not get drafted, he said he plans to take a break and enjoy his free time.
"I haven't had any free time for awhile," Rindal said. "I've never had a spring break in my entire life. I don't even know what it is."
Not knowing what the future will hold, Rindal will continue step to the plate and try to keep it simple.