Tommy Pluschkell had waited more than four years to slowly trot around the bases at Baggett Stadium.
He made sure to cherish the moment.
“About time,” the fifth-year senior said with a smile after hitting his first career home run, a two-run shot in the second inning of the Cal Poly baseball team’s 6-2 win Friday over UC Riverside. “It’s been a monkey on my back.”
The No. 9 hitter cranked the first pitch he saw from Highlanders starter Antonio Gonzales over the fence in left field, scoring John Schuknecht from second and setting off a frenzy in the third base dugout.
“We were fired up,” starting pitcher Casey Bloomquist said. “One of the guys yelled ‘No way!’ as soon as he hit it. We couldn’t be any happier for the guy.
“And hey, what a time to do it in our last home series.”
Pluschkell gave credit to Schuknecht, who tipped the coaches from his spot at second to tell Pluschkell to expect a fastball.
“That’s huge when you know that,” Pluschkell said. “Props to him. I owe him dinner or lunch or something.”
Pluschkell wasn’t a starter when the year began for the Mustangs (24-25, 11-8 Big West), but as the team struggled defensively out of the gate, head coach Larry Lee plugged the utility infielder in at third base.
All the Pleasanton native has done since is start 41 games and record 49 putouts and 64 assists against just two errors for a .983 fielding percentage — second-best to first baseman Ryan Drobny among those who started in the field Friday.
“The longer the season’s gone, the stronger he’s been for us,” Lee said. “If he can get to it, it’s usually an out.”
That theory proved true half an inning after his homer, when a sharp liner from Dante Chupek with a runner on first was screaming its way toward the outfield. Pluschkell took a step to his left before laying out to knock it down, throwing to first to end the inning.
“We call it put your nose in it,” Bloomquist said. “He’s a nitty-gritty player, and he’s going to do whatever it takes to get the out and get the job done.”
A three-time winner of the team’s Robin Baggett Scholar-Athlete award, Pluschkell was a spot starter at first base in his first three years, never committing more than one error in any season but also hitting just .167 as a junior.
Still, he came into this year knowing his number would be called at some point.
“Honestly, I expected to get a starting spot eventually,” said Pluschkell, who is hitting .264 with 10 RBI and 23 runs. “I’ve been here for five years, and every year I’ve found my way into the starting lineup. You’ve just got to go out and be prepared every game and every season as if you’re going to be the guy.”
Pluschkell was the man of the moment in the bottom of the second inning, hoping his drive wouldn’t end in just another long fly out at the warning track.
The ball cleared the fence as he rounded first base, slowing his sprint to a relaxing jog as the rest of the Mustangs roared and some streamed out of the dugout to welcome him home.
“It was such a relief,” Pluschkell said, “and a great moment to share with my teammates. I think they might have been more excited than I was. Everybody’s got my back and everyone’s got each others’ backs.”