VIDEO TAGS: Marcus Semien, David Esquer, Erik Johnson
READ and WATCH more Cal coverage from Sox camp: Johnson Battles Through First Start
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It didn’t take Chicago White Sox second baseman Marcus Semien long to make an impact in his first Major League spring training game. In his first defensive inning, the California alumnus saved the bacon of Stanford product Scott Snodgress, when he speared a low line drive to his left to help the big lefty get out of a two-on, two-out jam.
Semien played five innings for the Pale Hose on Sunday, registering three assists, one put-out and starting a double play. Afterwards, manager Robin Ventura had high praise for Semien, who is just 20 months removed from being drafted in the sixth round by the South Siders.
“I think just it’s the all-around package from Marcus,” said the second-year skipper. “He’s one of those that you just let him get out there. Early on, we’re hoping to get him some chances, for those guys to get out there and see what he can do.”
Semien is in his first big league camp, along with his teammate on the 2011 Golden Bears College World Series squad, who started and tossed three innings on Sunday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving up one run on four hits with two strikeouts and a walk in the 2-2, nine-inning tie.
The two are bunking together for the duration of camp, and it’s not the first time the big righty and the smooth-fielding infielder have cohabitated.
Last season, Semien and Johnson teamed together at High-A Winston-Salem. Before that, the two roomed together in Berkeley.
“We lived together at Cal, and shared a floor over on Blake St., in Berkeley,” Semien recalls. “He’s an awesome guy. He’s never caused any problems, handles his business, works really hard and I’m trying to work just as hard as he does.”
In fact, it was Johnson who let him know that they would both be heading to big league camp this spring.
“I want to say, some time in January, mid-January, I actually got a text from Erik, telling me to check my email, because he saw my name on the email list, and I hadn’t checked my email yet,” Semien grins, as he shakes his head.
As much as Semien adores his work wife, his longtime girlfriend Tarah Murrey -- a former All-American volleyball player for the Golden Bears -- is the apple of his eye. Murrey is currently playing professional volleyball in Italy, where Semien traveled to see her for three weeks during the offseason.
“She’s in Giaveno, Italy. It’s a province of Torino, where they had the Winter Olympics,” says Semien. “I went there in the offseason, right after instructional league for three weeks.”
Even though it was a ready-made romantic vacation, Semien still missed home.
“It was OK,” he smiles, slyly. “I like America a little better.”
Home, of course, means baseball.
Semien isn’t ashamed in the least to admit that Murrey is the one bringing home the bacon these days, while he lives off his signing bonus as he toils in the minors.
“She’s making some good money for herself,” Semien says. When asked who makes more, he laughs. “You know how much minor leaguers make, so I’d say her.”
The fact that Semien and Murrey – two top-flight athletes while at Cal – have been in a relationship for several years now touches on what’s become a theme in Golden Bears athletics. Semien’s father -- Damien -- was a star wide receiver for the football team, and Marcus was born while Damien was still in school. Damien’s bookend receiver -- Brian Treggs -- is the father of Cal sophomore playmaker Bryce Treggs. Semien played with two other second-generation Golden Bears during his time in Berkeley in B.J. Guinn -- who is currently in minor league camp with the San Diego Padres -- and Austin Booker -- in minor league camp with the Oakland Athletics. Booker’s father – Rod – played in the College World Series for the Bears the last time they won a game in Omaha, before Semien, Johnson and Austin reached the Promised Land of college baseball in 2011 and defeated Texas A&M.
When asked if he feels any kind of pressure to keep the family tradition going, Semien paws at the dirt and grins nervously.
“It’s been a lot of father-son Cal connections here, especially with baseball, with the Guinns and the Bookers. It’s pretty cool,” he says, bashfully.
His father, in fact, is coming out to visit for the first time on Monday, when the White Sox play the San Francisco Giants -- the team that both father and son grew up rooting for.
“He hasn’t been able to come to many road trips to see me play, because he works pretty rough hours. He works at Juvenile Hall. He’s a peace officer,” Semien says. “He found time in his schedule to come out here for a few days, and we play the Giants tomorrow, and he’s obviously a Giants fan, being from San Francisco. He came to Omaha. That was the only other road trip he’s seen me play on.”
Semien pauses and lets a single chuckle escape his lips.
“He just sees me play on big stages.”
Despite the quick start, Semien is more than aware of the scrub-sized No. 83 jersey on his back. He’s not expected to make the big club this year, but he’s certainly got the taste in his mouth, now.
“I’m just taking it day by day, and it’d be nice to make it past first cuts. My goal is to make the Birmingham team, Double-A, and go from there,” says Semien, who after spending most of his career as a shortstop, has been working out at second base this spring, under the watchful eye of the manager of those Birmingham Barons, Caribbean Baseball Hall-of-Famer Ever Magallanes.
“Ever Magallanes, our infield instructor, the biggest thing he’s taught me is just keeping my footwork going on defense, whether it’s second, short or third, just trying to be athletic and be a consistent infielder,” Semien says.
Semien is also quite taken with Ventura, who is a product of college baseball himself, as a three-time All-American at Oklahoma State. In fact, Ventura’s Cowboys reached Omaha themselves in 1987, only to fall to an upstart Stanford team with a senior shortstop by the name of David Esquer -- the Golden Bears’ current head coach, now in his 14th season.
“He’s a really laid back manager,” Semien said of Ventura. “He obviously was very talented as a player, and he’s a great coach too. He’s got a great staff around him that handles more of the practice details, but I watched some games last year, and he looked like he was handling the big league stage as a manager, so I’m sure he’ll get better this year, too ... It’s a great coaching staff, and just being out here for this first week and a half, I really want to be here one day.”