Cal connection: Vaughn, Semien share bond

August 26th, 2021

TORONTO -- The first time Marcus Semien saw 18-year-old swing a bat, he knew: that kid’s gonna be a pro.

Semien, a Northern California native who attended the University of California, Berkeley (commonly known as “Cal”), was back at his alma mater in the fall of 2016 to work out between MLB seasons. It’s an annual tradition for the middle infielder, who uses the school’s facilities from Thanksgiving through early February to hit, throw, field grounders and lift weights.

“Cal’s a place that our player alumni -- we always want to come back and show the current players what we’ve learned in pro ball,” Semien said. “Kind of just share our experience with them.”

That experience was invaluable for Vaughn, who spent time during all three of his college years hanging around Semien. Occasionally, that came at the expense of Vaughn’s education.

“I mean, I wouldn’t say I missed a class or two to take ground balls with him, but I might’ve,” Vaughn said with a smile.

Class was in session with Semien, too, and Vaughn remembers how Semien helped him refine his technique for fielding grounders. Vaughn wasn’t opening up his glove hand enough, so Semien stepped in.

“I was kind of fielding them on the side and I missed a couple balls,” Vaughn said. “He was like, ‘Get that thing as flat as you can and watch the difference.’ It happened right there.”

Fielding technique aside, Vaughn’s big-league potential flashed quickly, as Semien had predicted. Vaughn became Cal’s first Golden Spikes Award winner in 2018, posting a 1.350 OPS in 54 games to win college baseball’s version of the Heisman Trophy. In the 2019 MLB Draft, Vaughn was selected third overall by the White Sox. Now, he’s a mainstay in Chicago’s lineup.

Semien and Vaughn share similar baseball paths: Both are from NorCal, attended Cal and made the jump to the Majors (with the White Sox) after just two years.

“He’s the best player to ever come out of Cal,” Semien said of Vaughn, now 23. “I’m really happy for him and he’s got a bright future.”

This November, Semien will likely be back on Cal’s campus getting in his usual offseason work. Vaughn would love to join in, but he relocated to Arizona. Of course, he has no interest in helping Cal’s Pac-12 conference rivals there.

“Ha, no, not those guys,” Vaughn said. “Definitely only the Cal Bears. But I think I’d venture over [to Cal] to get some work in and see the old coaching staff. And just hang out for a little bit.”

And, who knows, Vaughn could spot the college’s next great big leaguer while he’s there.