Daniel Bibona passed up the pros for another shot at Omaha

by Kendall Rogers May 31, 2010 in Baseball

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Danny Bibona’s college baseball career is proof that dreams come true.

When Bibona signed on to join former coach Dave Serrano and the Anteaters before the 2007 season, he wasn’t really sure what to expect. The Anteaters had a solid program but weren’t the juggernaut they are today.

Signing with the Anteaters was a risk, but it was one Bibona was willing to take.

Three years later, Bibona couldn’t see himself with another program. As with former stars Scott Gorgen, Ben Orloff, Cody Cipriano and others, Bibona has become one of many faces of the constantly surging UC Irvine program.

Irvine was trying to find an identity before Bibona arrived. Now it is one of the nation’s premier programs. Bibona is to thank for some of that.

“I honestly didn’t know if my career and this program would be this good,” Bibona said. “Coming into a program that was top-25 caliber, but not top-10, you certainly aren’t real sure what to expect. But things quickly changed after my freshman season.”

Bibona’s freshman campaign was interesting to say the least. Serrano, who now is the coach at Cal State Fullerton, originally thought of Bibona as a two-way player. After all, he did hit .429 as a senior in high school. However, Serrano and his coaching staff decided that Bibona wasn’t needed in the field and urged him to focus on pitching.

Bibona was a part-time starter and reliever as a freshman and tallied an unimpressive 6.84 ERA in 26 1/3 innings.

“I think what happened to Danny in Year 1 is that he tried a little too hard to be perfect,” Serrano said. “We knew that he’d eventually get some consistency and swagger when he was a freshman. But we weren’t real sure when that actually would come out.”

Serrano bolted for Cal State Fullerton after Bibona’s freshman campaign. Bibona, though, continued to improve and took off as a sophomore, just as Serrano had predicted.

He was a consistent starter for the Anteaters and compiled an impressive 3.08 ERA in 102 1/3 innings. He also struck out 97 and walked 21.

UC Irvine pitching coach Ted Silva remembers watching Bibona come out of the bullpen in an early-season series against Nevada and putting together a dominant performance. From that point on, Silva was a strong believer in what Bibona could accomplish in his Irvine career.

“I think he gained some confidence as a sophomore, and as a result, that started to breed some very good results,” Silva said. “He believed in his stuff as a sophomore, and that really helped him take a huge step forward both mentally and physically.”

Even as successful as his sophomore campaign was, Bibona once again worked hard during the offseason and found ways to improve his game before his junior campaign and first draft season.

Bibona established himself as one of the nation’s premier pitchers as a junior, compiling a 2.63 ERA in 106 innings. The lefty also struck out 108 and walked just 26 batters. For his success, Bibona earned several All-America honors.

Bibona’s hard work also paid off last summer when the St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in the 16th round.

But instead of taking the money that was offered and focusing on a professional career, Bibona felt he had some unfinished business with the Anteaters.

Despite Bibona’s great individual campaign last season, the Anteaters fell short of reaching the College World Series even after earning a No. 1 ranking for several weeks of the regular season and compiling an amazing 22-2 Big West record.

Bibona insists he still may have returned to Irvine for his senior campaign even with a trip to Omaha last season. But the veteran also admits the failed opportunity to reach the CWS was on his mind the entire offseason.

“It definitely sat with me. If we would’ve gotten to Omaha last season and won a national title, it probably would’ve made my decision more difficult. I’m not saying I was 100 percent sure I’d sign if that happened, but it definitely could’ve swayed me,” Bibona said. “Having that bitter taste in my mouth after getting to Omaha my freshman year, I want to get back to the CWS before my career is over.”

Getting Bibona back was icing on the cake for a program that still has Omaha aspirations despite having just a 30-16 record so far this season.

“Getting Danny back this season was huge,” Silva said. “He’s the one that makes this team go when we open up a series. I don’t think anyone would disagree that we want him to have the ball in a series opener. We’re very thankful he chose to come back.”

Bibona has continued where he left off as a junior last season. He is 9-2 with a 2.10 ERA in 90 innings of work. He also has struck out 100 and walked just 15. Additionally, opponents are hitting Bibona at just a .208 clip.

But perhaps as important as his accomplishments on the field are, Bibona also has accomplished so much off the field.

It’s why he is a prime candidate for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award.

In addition to the great numbers he records each week on the mound, Bibona is a standout student. He was named the Big West Conference Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year this year. Also, Bibona is a Dean’s List member at UC Irvine.

To cap everything off, Bibona’s presence also has been felt in the community this spring. Taking time off from baseball, Bibona recently visited the Children’s Hospital of Orange County.

That is Danny Bibona in a nutshell.

Great pitcher. Student. Leader.