Originally published May 19, 2009 at 12:32p.m., updated May 20, 2009 at 12:00a.m.
Oklahoma City In the spring of 2008, having realized his scholarship money had all but dried up, Kansas University baseball coach Ritch Price attempted to sell recruit David Narodowski, then a second-year player at tiny Vernon (Texas) College, on an idea.
The idea was that Kansas featured an immediate opening at shortstop — a position that recently had become a kind of breeding ground at the school based on the success of past players Ritchie Price and Erik Morrison, both of whom were drafted following their KU careers.
“Basically, I tried to let him know the benefits of playing at Kansas, the tradition of shortstops playing at Kansas, how those guys had gone on and played professionally,” Price said.
Luckily for Price, Narodowski was quite fond of the idea.
Shunning more prominent financial offers to play at smaller schools, Narodowski jumped at the opportunity to play in the Big 12 Conference, and as a result, found himself holding a sizable trophy Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
During a luncheon at Mickey Mantle’s restaurant in the city’s Bricktown district, where the Big 12 baseball tournament will begin today, Narodowski was named the conference’s newcomer of the year — the first KU player ever to win the award.
In his first year at Kansas, Narodowski batted .357 with a .431 on-base percentage, finishing in the top six in the conference in doubles (19, third), hits (76, fifth) and runs scored (56, sixth).
“I definitely didn’t see this coming,” he admitted minutes before being honored.
If his path to Big 12 prominence is a bit shocking to the Vancouver, British Columbia, native, it’s because as recently as a year ago, it would have been hard for him to fathom the idea of even playing in the league.
As a prep, he had enjoyed plenty of success, earning all-conference honors in the British Columbia Premier League. He was also a member of the Canadian Junior National Team in 2006.
Following his prep career, however, the most enticing offer he received was to play at Vernon, a junior college located in a town of about 11,000.
So he headed to North Texas, where despite his success — he batted .450 with 18 doubles, eight home runs and 42 RBIs as a sophomore in 2008 — recruiters from major programs were not exactly storming the town to hand out scholarships.
“Vernon was the farthest town away from all the other schools, so for scouts to come out, for college recruiters to come out, it definitely was a difficult place to travel to,” Narodowski said. “And since we didn’t have too great of a season, nobody really wanted to come and watch.”
In Lawrence, meanwhile, Price was in the process of finalizing his infield plans for the following season. Anticipating an opening at shortstop, the team’s staff began following the stats of junior-college shortstops in some of the talent-concentrated baseball states — California, Arizona, Texas, Florida — which is how they came upon the 5-foot-10 Narodowski.
When Price came calling — even without the luxury of a significant monetary offer — the decision to attend Kansas wasn’t a difficult one.
Based on the results of the past 12 months, it has served both parties particularly well.
“You look at his batting average, you look at his on-base percentage, he’s been physical with the bat, he knocks in runs,” Price said. “He’s been one of the best offensive players in the country at his position.”
Entering this week’s conference tournament — fifth-seeded Kansas opens against No. 4 seed Kansas State at 9 a.m. today — Narodowski’s ability to get on base will be key in whether the Jayhawks can compete for their first Big 12 championship since 2006.
“I know I’ve put in a lot of effort to be here,” Narodowski said. “Coach Price gave me the opportunity, and hopefully I can take advantage of it up to his standards.”