Let’s take a look at San Diego State baseball’s all-time starting nine in this edition of the NCAA.com series of the best possible starting lineups for some of college baseball’s most notable programs.
Here is how we picked the team: We dug deep in the record books, only considering the players’ college career and accolades. Their achievements in professional baseball did not come into play. There was also consideration given to their positional fits and how well they fit into a batting order we made based on historical stats that could provide a combination of high batting averages, speed, and power.
Though San Diego State may not have an abundance of championship trophies, there are plenty of familiar names that have donned the Aztec uniform. A future MLB Hall of Famer and many an All Star got their start with San Diego State. Let’s take a look.
Bobby Meacham, shortstop (1979-81)
Meacham was a solid shortstop for the Aztecs for three seasons. He left the program second all-time with 277 hits and the all-time run scorer with 214, which makes him a nice fit for the top of a lineup. Perhaps Meacham’s greatest contribution is luring in Tony Gwynn to the program. Meacham is credited with helping the conversion of Gwynn from basketball player to baseball after telling head coach Jim Dietz Gwynn was the best baseball player he played against.
Tony Gwynn, outfield (1979-81)
Perhaps the best-known player in program history, Gwynn was Mr. San Diego. He had a stellar career with the Aztecs, played all 20 of his MLB seasons with the San Diego Padres, and returned to his alma mater as SDSU head coach from 2003-14. Along the way, he became one of the best hitters of his generation, posting back-to-back .400 seasons in 1980 (.423) and 1981 (.416). Gwynn ended his career with a .389 average, still second in San Diego State history.
Chris Gwynn, outfield (1983-85)
The Gwynns join Terry and Tom Steinbach on Minnesota’s all-time nine as brothers on our all-time rosters. The younger Gwynn’s 1984 season is one of the best in San Diego State history, with his hits (137), home runs (19), total bases (243), RBI (95), and runs scored (95) all single-season marks in Aztecs lore. He also added a .403 season to his resume in his final year showing he could do it all for the Aztecs.
Travis Lee, first base (1994-96)
#AztecForLife Travis Lee:
✔️1994 Freshman All-American
✔️1996 Golden Spikes Award Winner
✔️2004 SDSU Hall of Fame Inductee
✔️9-Year MLB Veteran
16 days left to Opening Day! pic.twitter.com/jtd1KmFqhc
— SDSU Baseball (@SDSUBaseball) January 31, 2018
This could have very easily been Mark Grace, whose one year with San Diego State translated into a .395 batting average and the Most Valuable Player and best defensive player team honors that season. But Lee was a force throughout his tenure starting his career with freshman All-American honors and ending it with consecutive All-American campaigns and a Golden Spikes award. Along the way, he found his way into San Diego State’s top 10 in runs (165), hits (231), home runs (26), and RBI (155) in three years.
Art Preston, outfield (1950-52)
There were a lot of names we liked for this spot. Greg Allen, Quintin Berry, and Paul Lockhart are just a few that were highly considered. But we just love Preston’s resume. While racking up 1,664 career years and then-record 34 touchdowns as a running back for the Aztecs, he also put together back-to-back .400 season in 1951 (.467) and 1952 (.477)
Graig Nettles, third base (1964-65)
Alex Pelaez is a very strong fit here. His 1998 season was a monster one, hitting .399 with 16 home runs and 69 runs driven in. But Nettles, who actually set the fielding percentage record at shortstop, would become one of the greatest defensive third basemen in history. Like Gwynn, Nettles was a two-sport star who also played basketball for the Aztecs. He led the team in batting average and home runs before embarking on a successful big-league career.
Eric Christopherson, catcher (1988-90)
Christopherson was known for the leather, scouted early in his high school years by professional teams for his glove. He certainly delivered behind the plate for the Aztecs, earning the 1990 team most valuable defensive player award, but he also found his swing in his final season. Christopherson hit .348 with a 1.040 OPS with seven home runs in 1990, earning All-American honors that season as well.
Chris Cannizzaro, second base (1981-83)
Both baseball and San Diego were in Cannizzaro’s blood as his father was the first Padres All-Star in franchise history. Later, young Cannizzaro became the only second baseman to earn All-American honors for San Diego State. He certainly had some nice numbers and had no problem getting on base. His 83 walks in 1983 and 169 over his career are both still best in San Diego State history.
Stephen Strasburg, starting pitcher (2007-09)
As with every other program, picking one starting pitcher is difficult. Names like Bud Black, Bill Blount, Aaron Harang, and Mark Williamson come to mind, as does Addison Reed if we were to add a closer. But Strasburg is a Golden Spikes Award winner and was nearly impossible to score off of while with the Aztecs.
His 2009 Golden Spikes year alone is worthy of this list. Strasburg went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA, striking out 195 and walking just 19 batters. He’s the Aztecs career leader in strikeouts and ERA by pitchers who have thrown over 200 innings with a 1.59 career mark over three years. Whether it was his 100 mph heat or a 23-strikeout performance, Strasburg left plenty a memorable mark during his time with the Aztecs.
Jim Dietz, head coach (1972-2002)
Dietz coached most of this lineup and then handed the reigns to Gwynn when he retired. In between, he amassed 1,231 wins, the most in program history. He led the Aztecs to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 1979 and San Diego State would return eight more times during his tenure. A member of the ABCA Hall of Fame, Dietz accomplished plenty over his 30 years in San Diego.