Cal Poly

Poly's Jensen gets Team USA invite

Tribune photo by David Middlecamp: Cal Poly’s Matt Jensen, shown here flipping the ball to first during a game last year, has been invited to Team USA tryouts beginning Monday in North Carolina.
Tribune photo by David Middlecamp: Cal Poly’s Matt Jensen, shown here flipping the ball to first during a game last year, has been invited to Team USA tryouts beginning Monday in North Carolina.

Matt Jensen looks to be figuring things out in the Cape Cod League — just as the Cal Poly second baseman is getting ready to take a little break from the most high profile summer collegiate baseball conference in the country.

After missing the Mustangs’ final 19 games of the college season because of a dislocated knee, the junior-to-be got off to a slow start with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox this summer.

But in the past 10 games, he’s batted .342, hit his first three wood-bat extra-base hits and drove in eight of his nine RBI — raising his summer batting average to .255.

He’ll ride that roll right into tryouts for USA Baseball’s College National Team on Monday at the Team USA training complex in Cary, North Carolina, where he’ll be the first Cal Poly player to compete in the trials.

The key to his recent success: “I just started to relax, not think as much, just play the game as it’s supposed to be played and have fun playing it,” Jensen said.

The Clovis native has had plenty to think about in two eventful seasons at Cal Poly. He opted to come to the school after being drafted in the 11th round of the Major League Draft out of Clovis East High by the Seattle Mariners.

Jensen got off to a fantastic start his freshman season, flashing power with nine home runs, stringing together a 23-game hitting streak in a chase for the program record and putting up a .375 batting average.

But each of his past two collegiate seasons have been ended early by freak injuries, and his sophomore batting line of .270 and two home runs fell short of the lofty expectations set by his Big West Freshman of the Year award and Baseball America Freshman All-America debut.

The knee dislocation happened on a routine play in practice where Jensen fielded a wild throw at second and planted his foot awkwardly on his throw to first. He didn’t fully recover until two weeks after the season ended.

“When it wasn’t getting better after a couple days, I knew the probability of him coming back for this season was slim,” said Mustangs head coach Larry Lee, who was out of town recruiting when the injury happened. “It was in his best interest to let it heal 100 percent and not have to worry about coming back.

“It was definitely a blow, just like it was during his freshman year.”

The knee injury was bizarrely reminiscent of the broken collarbone Jensen suffered in a collision with a baserunner in 2009 that kept him from playing in the program’s first trip to an NCAA Regional and prevented him from trying out for the U.S. team last season.

Just like the rest of the juniors around the country, the 2011 Draft will be crucial to Jensen’s professional prospects. He upped his stock with a standout freshman year, but the injuries and sophomore slump may have dropped it some.

Either way, Jensen feels as though he has to shed the injury stigma.

“It’s really aggravating,” Jensen said. “I’m trying to set up my future and just staying healthy is one of my problems. I just have to figure out a way to stay healthy for a full year and just play the game.

“I don’t know if I have to prove it to anybody else, but I think in my own mind, I have to prove it because it happened twice, and I’m injury prone.”

Jensen has the opportunity to make a splash at the national team tryout, where he will be one of 39 fellow prospects competing to make the final 22-man roster. Team USA will play a 10-game exhibition schedule against international teams before closing its summer at the FISU World University Championships in Tokyo later this month.

If Jensen makes the team, he will be along for the ride. If not, he’ll return to Cape Cod, finish out the rest of the summer alongside Mustangs teammate Bobby Crocker with Yarmouth-Dennis and return to Cal Poly looking to make next season his last at the collegiate level.

“He’s somebody that when he puts everything together and he’s healthy that he can do some good things,” Lee said. “Whatever happens, it will be a great experience for him.”