Aaron Fitt

Intangibles make Bibona hard to resist

by Aaron Fitt June 27, 2010 in Baseball

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UC Irvine coach Mike Gillespie has gotten to know countless players in nearly 40 years as a college baseball coach. It’s safe to say Daniel Bibona ranks up there with his favorites.

“I’m a huge fan of his,” Gillespie said. “Anybody that’s around him or really watches him, it’s impossible to not like him. There’s nothing not to like.”

That goes for fans, coaches, teammates and media—it’s simply impossible not to like Bibona. Both on the field and off, Irvine’s ace lefthander has epitomized the best of college athletics during his brilliant career, and he is the 2010 winner of the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. The award honors a senior who has excelled in athletics as well as academics, while demonstrating the values of leadership and community service.

Bibona has been remarkably consistent since moving into Irvine’s weekend rotation in 2008, going 9-3, 3.08 with 97 strikeouts and 21 walks in 102 innings as a sophomore that year, then going 12-1, 2.63 with 108 walks and 26 strikeouts in 106 innings last season, and finally going 9-2, 2.48 with 102 strikeouts and 15 walks in 94 innings as a senior this spring. For three years, he has been the ace for one of the nation’s best teams—even while coping with adversity off the field.

One day before Bibona was scheduled to make the first start of his sophomore year, he learned that his mother Linda’s breast cancer—which had been in remission—was back.

“It was emotional,” Bibona said. “She’s tough, so she didn’t want the coaches to know because she didn’t want them not to throw me that day. If she could have it her way, she wouldn’t want me to know. She’s stubborn; she’s going to be tough and not let it affect me or anyone else who knows our family. But it’s something that’s been real tough on my family. That’s probably been my greatest motivation over the last three years since the day I found out: Just go out there and make her proud.”

He certainly has done that, and he says his mother is “hanging in there.” Over the last three years, she’s gotten to watch her son blossom into one of the nation’s best pitchers—though he’s had to prove himself over and over again to pro scouts because he’s just 6 feet, 170 pounds and tops out around 87 mph with his fastball. He said the lack of interest he garnered from scouts out of high school and after his junior year at Irvine gave him extra motivation.

“I’ve always sort of been the underdog in my career, not being highly recruited out of high school, just sort of having to prove myself at every step of the way,” he said.

Of course, Bibona has never been about himself or the draft. He’s the consummate teammate, and he’s had a calming presence on younger teammates.

“Really his demeanor and personality is even—there are no ups and downs with this guy,” Gillespie said. “He’s not a loudmouth, not a real vociferous person in any way, but nor is he mute. He’s comfortable with adults, comfortable with his buddies. There’s nobody that doesn’t like him. He’s a great teammate. He’s businesslike, he’s a relentless worker, he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty on the field, raking the mound. He does those things and likes it.”

And he’s also willing to roll up his sleeves in the classroom. Bibona took 20 units in the fall and had a 3.85 grade point average. He was named the Big West Conference Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year as a senior.

“He’s special. He’s a very bright guy, a smart guy,” Gillespie said. “This guy’s intangibles are off the chart.”