Benefield: Work pays off for Spikes award winner Andrew Vaughn

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I’m glad I’m not the only one who was surprised.

When Maria Carrillo grad Andrew Vaughn was named the 2018 Golden Spikes winner Thursday, his head dropped to his chest in disbelief. He was sitting next to pitcher Casey Mize of Auburn and infielder Kody Clemens of Texas. Clemens was a first-round pick for the Detroit Tigers, the same team that made Mize the first pick overall in the Major League Baseball draft in June.

But it was Vaughn’s name that was called, crowning him the best player in college baseball. It’s baseball’s Heisman. Or basketball’s John Wooden Award.

“I fell into shock, I just dropped my head,” said Vaughn, speaking from Cary, North Carolina, where he’s playing with Team USA. “My legs were shaking. I didn’t know what to do.”

Watching the scene play out on screen, it seemed like Vaughn had to be reminded to stand, to walk over and accept college baseball’s highest honor.

“It means the world,” he said in that moment.

Even from the outside it seemed surreal. Vaughn’s name will now and forever more be listed next to the likes of Buster Posey, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg.

“The guys that have won it in the past have been unbelievable names in baseball,” he said from North Carolina on Saturday morning.

And the guys who were sitting next to him on stage in Los Angeles for the live broadcast of the ceremony last week are certainly no slouches. That is Roger Clemens’ son to Vaughn’s right and Mize, the top pick in the draft, farther down.

Brady Singer, the 2018 Dick Howser Trophy winner, was the other finalist but he wasn’t at the ceremony.

And Vaughn topped them all. He’s the first Pac-12 guy to win it since UCLA’s Trevor Bauer in 2011 and the first Cal player ever to win the award.

Two years ago, Vaughn was wearing a Pumas uniform. His award that year was being named The Press Democrat’s All-Empire Player of the Year.

His two-year trajectory hasn’t been too bad.

So Vaughn admitted to being a little surprised it was his named announced Thursday. I was a little stunned, too. But do you know who wasn’t surprised? Vaughn’s high school coach at Maria Carrillo, Derek DeBenedetti.

“It doesn’t surprise me and I’m not shocked at all,” he said. “At the end of the day and the body of work through the entire season, I think they got it right.”

Vaughn, a first-team All-American who was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year last season and Pac-12 Player of the Year this season, started all 54 games for the Golden Bears. During the regular season he led the Pac-12 in batting average (.402), slugging percentage (.819), on base percentage (.531) and total bases (163).

He was second in homers (23) to national home run champ Spencer Torkelson, a 2017 Casa Grande grad who earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors a year after Vaughn did.

The fact that Vaughn put up such huge numbers week in and week out in Pac-12 play was key, DeBenedetti said.

“He’s playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country and doing it on a daily basis,” he said. “And that’s the reason he’s the best player in the country. You think of all the players in the country who had a great year, and the people who decided said this represents the best.”

He was fantastically consistent all season long despite having the klieg lights of national attention on him from opening day. He was the returning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. He was on the preseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award. There was nowhere to hide.

“I have known Andrew since he was 8, 9 years old and I have never been around a young man who handles pressure so well,” DeBenedetti said. “Andrew doesn’t put pressure on himself, he never has. I think that is borne from his unbelievable confidence in himself that he can handle anything that is put in front of him.”

I asked Vaughn if he felt the weight of expectation at any point in the season. If there were points when he thought about his numbers, or slumps or keeping pace with other players.

“I didn’t really think about it,” he said. “You just go out and do your thing. If you think about being in a slump, you are in a slump. Sometimes you have your ups and downs, that’s baseball.”

“I try to just take a breath and no matter the situation, just try to get the job done,” he said.

When Cal coach Mike Neu called Vaughn to congratulate him, Vaughn turned the tables on him.

“I said, ‘Thank you for everything you did for me. Thank you for recruiting me,’” he said. “Ultimately I wouldn’t get this opportunity if he hadn’t recruited me.”

Whatever Neu saw in his future #20, others are now seeing in spades. For the rest of his baseball career, Vaughn isn’t likely to surprise anyone. People will see him coming.

Vaughn is spending his second consecutive summer playing for Team USA primarily in Cary, North Carolina. That is where he headed at the crack of dawn the morning after he was named the best in the business in college baseball.

“I left the 29th really early in the morning and landed here at 3 and bussed straight to the field,” he said.

Twenty-four hours removed from the Golden Spikes ceremony in LA, Team USA beat Chinese Taipei 3-1 and Vaughn smacked a double.

Is there any place he’d rather the day after probably the biggest night of his life?

“Nope, of course not,” he said.

The team plays in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia before opening a five-game series against Cuba in the Estadio Latinamericano in Havana on July 10.

Vaughn said he’s stoked to play in that massive stadium in Cuba, but he’s more than a little ready for some down time at the end of the summer. When the tour with Team USA wraps up he’ll fish a little, relax a little. But baseball will always be at the forefront of his plans.

“I’m looking forward to next year,” he said. “I’m excited.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 and at Kerry.benefield, on Twitter @benefield and Instagram @kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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