Article, 2008 Season - Ohlone College Renegades Men's Baseball

Pitcher sets sights on Alaska, Santa Barbara

By Wes Bowers.

Thursday, June 12, 2008—Reprinted from Fremont Bulletin.

Joe Gardner in Renegades uniform.Joe Gardner.

Joe Gardner is living the dream that many young baseball players have when they pick up a bat and glove.

Gardner, a Fremont resident and ace pitcher at both Milpitas High School and Ohlone Community College, is heading for Kenai, Alaska, to play in a summer collegiate league before starting his career at the University of California at Santa Barbara thanks to a full-scholarship.

To top that off, there's a chance he'll be drafted by a Major League Baseball team at the entry draft this month.

It's something he and his family believe doesn't normally happen to most local athletes.

"I remember when he was a freshman at Milpitas High. They told us there are 300,000 seniors in the country, and only 3 percent of them go on to become professional athletes," father Ken Gardner said. "That's a paltry number, but we think it's a pretty good accomplishment for Joe."

Of course, he's not a professional athlete yet. Joe Gardner said he is committed to completing four years of college at UC Santa Barbara.

Joe Gardner hopes to major in communications or sociology he doesn't know yet.

What's first on his mind is playing for the Peninsula Oilers in the Alaskan Baseball League, a summer league for college students that's invite-only.

Moreover, the majority of players in the league come from National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I schools like the University of Hawaii or Duke University.

Joe Gardner is one of four players on the Oilers coming from the community college level.

He left for Anchorage last Thursday, and started playing Tuesday.

To be invited to play in the league, coaches can refer you or you can be scouted.

Joe Gardner said he learned of the league near the end of Ohlone's baseball season from his coaches.

"They approached me and asked if I was doing anything for the summer," he said. "When I said not really they asked if I wanted to play in the league."

According to Ken Gardner, there are three collegiate summer leagues in the country seen as the best of the best.

The Cape Cod Baseball League in New England is probably the most well known in baseball circles, he said.

Joe Gardner was invited to play in both the Alaskan League ranked third among coaches and scouts and the Northwoods Baseball League in the Midwest.

"I decided to go to Alaska because I think it's a better fit for me," he said. "I'm just flattered to be invited to such a prestigious league."

Joe Gardner started playing baseball in Milpitas Little League with the intention of playing catcher or shortstop.

To be a catcher most players are short in stature, and he said as he grew taller, playing the position grew increasingly out of the question.

He then continued playing youth ball as shortstop and eventually pitcher.

It was in the latter position Joe Gardner found his success as he developed a strong throwing arm and remarkable accuracy.

He made Milpitas High's junior varsity team under coach Mike Greer, and in his sophomore year pitched the very first game played at the school's new sports field where he led the junior varsity Trojans to a 7-0 victory over the Los Altos High School Eagles.

Joe Gardner moved onto the school's varsity team, where Head Coach Chuy Zamudio helped him prepare for the transition from high school to community college ball.

The Gardners say it was Ohlone Coach Tom Kunis, a former pitching coach at Stanford University, who developed Joe's ability even further and is the reason a lot of what's going on today is happening.

While at Ohlone, Joe Gardner made All-Conference in the Coast Conference both seasons, and this past season led the conference in innings pitched. He was also second in the conference in strikeouts.

Kenai, Alaska is a two-hour drive from Anchorage, and the Peninsula Oilers are one of the top teams in the six-club league.

If the Oilers do well, Joe Gardner could be in the National Baseball Conference World Series in Wichita, Neb. on Aug. 1.

Then it's on to Santa Barbara, where he'll likely play for one of the top teams in the Big West conference.

He was courted by several universities throughout the nation, but made his ultimate decision just weeks ago to attend Santa Barbara.

Joe Gardner said he chose the school because he liked its atmosphere.

"It's close to home. It has good coaches they impressed me with what they had planned to make me better," he said. "And having a UC degree was more appealing to me than a degree from a state school."

Joe Gardner added that he hopes he gets drafted in the June Major League Baseball draft.

His father said as many as 10 teams have already shown interest. He added whichever team drafts him will undoubtedly make an offer, but the offer has to be really good to get his son to leave college.

Ken Gardner said while foregoing a pro career to complete college could hinder a player's chances of making it to the majors, the family is proud of Joe's accomplishments in life.

"We just hope he continues to have great success, gets a degree and realizes his dreams whatever they may be," he said. "If he turns pro, great. If not, he can take his degree and go into life with his best intentions."

Joe Gardner said he will continue playing in honor of former teammate Michael De Jesus.

Joe Gardner said he and De Jesus grew up together, competing for the shortstop position in Little League.

De Jesus was killed in 2005 when unwanted guests at a Berryessa neighborhood party fired multiple shots into a crowd of people. A bullet struck De Jesus in the head.

At the time, De Jesus was attending Evergreen College in San Jose and was also on the road to attending an NCAA Division I school. Ken Gardner said De Jesus and his son would have both been heading for universities today.

"We're still thinking of him, and he's still playing behind us," Joe Gardner said.

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