UCLA's Espy takes ASU cold shoulder in stride - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

UCLA's Espy takes ASU cold shoulder in stride

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Posted: Thursday, June 24, 2010 6:00 pm | Updated: 7:03 pm, Sun Jun 27, 2010.

Two years ago, Dean Espy was the one left out.

Now he's the last one standing.

The UCLA sophomore third baseman starred at Red Mountain earlier this decade and had dreams of playing baseball for Arizona State.

He rounded out the infield of a summer ball team with current ASU starters Zack MacPhee, Drew Maggi and Riccio Torrez.

One by one, those players were offered the chance to don the maroon and gold. But talks with ASU never materialized into anything concrete, and Espy's only scholarship offer came from UNLV.

"You always want to play in your hometown, in front of friends and family," Espy said. "It was just a weird process for me. Things just didn't come together."

"He really wanted to play at ASU," Red Mountain coach Jason Grantham said.

Instead, Espy took his game to South Mountain Community College, intent on giving himself better options, whether through the Major League Baseball draft or with a top college program.

In the beginning he pressed, knowing the ramifications this one season would have on his career.

"Early on, I expected a lot out of myself," Espy said. "But then I realized, you don't need to do that. What you're doing is good enough. I really just tried to enjoy last year. I loved the team and I got along really good with the coaches. I needed to go do that."

Espy's talents shone through, as he hit .361 in his one season with South Mountain, enough to grab the attention of the Bruins.

Now, after the top-seeded Sun Devils came and went in two forgetful games at the College World Series, UCLA keeps chugging along.

The Bruins face TCU on Friday at 1:30 p.m. on ESPN2, one win away from advancing to the national championship series.

"It's really been unreal," Espy said. "The experience of a lifetime."

After splitting at-bats early in the season, Espy has been one of the most dangerous hitters in the UCLA lineup. He is batting .356, and his slugging percentage of .588 is tops among starters.

"I always knew I could hit," Espy said.

The question for Espy was his glove.

He played shortstop in high school, but profiled better at the corner infield positions. Espy worked hard at third base during his year at South Mountain, and has only made five errors at the hot corner this season.

Espy said the year of junior college ball taught him to take nothing for granted.

Instead of playing summer ball last year, he stayed home in Arizona and worked out harder than he had ever done so before.

"I hit, I ran, I worked on my speed," Espy said. "I wanted to work on bettering myself coming into this season."

Arizona State went to UCLA and swept a three-game set two months ago. Before the Sun Devils were eliminated on Tuesday, Espy said it would have been nice to get a chance at payback. But to him, it is a friendly rivalry. There is no lingering animosity for the cold shoulder as a recruit.

Espy said he never felt disappointed or jealous that his former teammates went to ASU as he played down the road at South Mountain.

"I'm very close with a lot of them," Espy said. "I wasn't trying to measure myself against them, though it would have been easy to. It is what it is. Their path wasn't my path."

As Espy prepares for Friday, he does so without regret.

"Looking at it now, it helped me grow as a person and a player to get out of my comfort zone," he said. "Would I have been the player I've become now? Maybe not. I couldn't be happier with how it turned out."

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