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Dave Campagna Not Taxed by His Longest Day

May 22, 1986|CHRIS ELLO

SAN DIEGO — April 15 was a memorable day for San Diego State catcher Dave Campagna.

No, he didn't discover that he was getting a lot of money back from the government. His day was a little more taxing than that.

Campagna, 22, became known as an iron man in just one afternoon--one very long afternoon--on a frozen field in Salt Lake City.

The Aztecs and Utah were scheduled to play three games that day. Campagna arrived at the ballpark for the 9 a.m. game and saw his name on the lineup card. It was there again for Game 2, which went extra innings. And it was there again for Game 3.

Many major leaguers would cringe at the the thought of having to catch a doubleheader. And here Campagna, a senior from Bonita Vista High School, had caught a tripleheader.

"I have to admit I was getting awfully tired near the end of that second game," Campagna said. "But I thought to myself, 'Hey, you might as well play it out because this will be it for you.' Then, the second game ended and I found out I was catching the third game."

It was quite a day. The Aztecs won all three games and went on to win 12 more Western Athletic Conference games in succession. Two weeks ago, SDSU won its first WAC championship to qualify for the NCAA playoffs.

The Aztecs begin play in the Central Regional at 2 p.m. today against Arizona. The six-team, double-elimination tournament, which also features Pepperdine, Pan American, Southern Illinois and Texas, goes through Sunday, with the winner qualifying for the College World Series next week in Omaha, Neb.

The day the Aztecs took three from Utah might have been the turning point in the season.

San Diego State had three catchers along for the Utah trip, but one of them, Cam Fajer, was not expected to play because of "personal problems," Coach Jim Dietz said. After SDSU won the first game, Dietz decided to stay with Campagna--a right-handed batter who wound up with five hits--instead of left-handed hitting Rob Angus, who had been the starting catcher.

Since the tripleheader, Campagna and Angus have shared catching duties on a rather loosely structured platoon basis. It occasionally varies according to Dietz's hunches.

"We didn't really have a choice that day," Dietz said. "Utah kept throwing left-handed pitchers and Dave was playing well."

Did Campagna ever mention that he was getting tired?

"No way I would have done that," Campagna said. "I wanted to be in the lineup."

And who could blame him?

Campagna, who played a season at the University of San Diego and another at Southwestern College, was a long shot to make the San Diego State team for the 1985 season.

He was invited to fall tryouts as a walk-on with 11 other catchers. He earned a spot on the team and batted nearly .300 as a part-time player.

This season, Dietz brought in more catchers and said that he wanted to go with a younger player at the position. Dietz was looking for a first baseman, and Campagna was on trial again.

"He had a lot of people who weren't on his side, including me," Dietz said. "But he hung in there. He went out there with the intention of proving me wrong, and that's great. A lot of different things happened to all of our catchers and Dave was still there. It's fantastic when a kid shows that kind of desire and hangs in there like that."

Said Campagna: "When I was first moved to first base, I kept wondering if there was a reason. I couldn't figure it out. I knew I had to keep trying hard and wait for my chance, but it was getting to the point that I wasn't sure if I would ever get one."

But, as Dietz said, catchers kept dropping by the wayside.

Campagna did not become a first baseman after all, eventually staying behind the plate.

"I always tell my players that if they can hang in there on the baseball field and in the classroom, they have a good chance," said Dietz, who is in his 15th year at SDSU. "So many players just eliminate themselves."

Campagna hit .257 this season with one home run and 14 RBIs, but he played his best during the conference season. He had five hits that day in Utah and played well in SDSU's series sweep of Hawaii that ended the regular season.

"At the beginning of the year, I was pressing quite a lot," Campagna said. "Since I was getting a chance to play, I wanted to show everyone that I deserved to be in there.

"I had to sit down and convince myself that the only way I was going to keep playing was to play well. I tried to take the pressure off myself."

Dietz lent a helping hand. In the past, Dietz had his catchers call all of the pitches during a game. Sometimes, when pitchers were hit hard, the catchers took the brunt of blame.

On one such day last season, Dietz walked to the mound to visit a tiring pitcher. Campagna walked out from behind the plate to listen to the discussion. Once he got there, he found out the discussion concerned him.

"I called the wrong pitch and a guy hit it off the fence to knock in two runs," Campagna said. "He (Dietz) had some choice words for me when I got out there."

There have been no such problems this season. Dietz decided to call all of the pitches from the bench.

"It's really helped out," Dietz said. "Some of the pitchers still feel that they want to control a game from the mound, but this new way of doing things has taken a lot of pressure off the catchers. Now, all they have to do is go out there, relax and play."

Dave Campagna went out there and played on April 15, but it was unlikely that he considered catching a tripleheader the most relaxing of experiences. However, iron men have to do that kind of thing.

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