Before his hometown San Francisco Giants made him their 33rd round pick in last week’s MLB draft, Nolan Dempsey had etched quite a baseball resume.
From graduating Serra as an all-West Catholic Athletic League outfielder in 2014, to two winning seasons at De Anza College, to his transfer to Fresno State and a trip to the NCAA regional playoffs in 2019, perhaps the most impactful year on his march toward pro ball came in 2015 at Oregon State.
Dempsey didn’t play baseball that first year of college. He bypassed a chance to play in community college to focus on academia. When the word “internships” starting bandying around in regards to the summer following his freshman year, however, he had a change of heart.
“I said: ‘What the heck am I doing? I love baseball,’” Dempsey said.
Dempsey and his love of the game arrived in Scottsdale, Arizona this week, where he officially signed Wednesday with the Giants. He reported to minor league camp Thursday and is ready to play in his first intrasquad game Friday.
For a kid who grew up rooting for the Giants — idolizing the likes of third baseman Pedro Feliz and, more recently, Gold Glove shortstop Brandon Crawford — donning the orange-and-black, surprisingly, felt like just another day at the yard, he said.
“I kind of take pride in not making a big moment bigger than it is,” Dempsey said. “I enjoy living in the moment. … I try to soak it in but I just treat it like another day at the yard. My whole life I’ve been like that.”
This was never more evident than down the stretch for Fresno State, as the Bulldogs won 10 of their last 11 regular-season games to lock up the Mountain West Conference championship.
The dominant stretch started with a non-conference win at Cal Poly followed by a three-game sweep at Nevada. Dempsey went 9 for 14 on the week, including a home run and five RBIs against Cal Poly, to earn his second Mountain West Player of the Week award of the season.
Fresno State went on to sweep the Mountain West Tournament, with Dempsey hitting a cool .400 (4 for 10). The Bulldogs then extended a winning streak to nine games by taking the first two games in the Stanford Regional before having their season end with back-to-back loses to the Cardinal June 2 and 3.
That 9-7 elimination loss landed on the first day of the MLB draft.
“In that moment I was pretty devastated that we lost,” Dempsey said. “I was staying in the moment in the regional … and I wanted to win more than anything in the world. And then we lost. So, to tell you the truth, the last thing that was on my mind that night was the draft.”
Prior to game time, it was announced Hunter Bishop — who was not only Dempsey’s former classmate at Serra, the two grew up in the same hometown of San Carlos — was drafted in the first round by the Giants.
“I was extremely happy for him,” Dempsey said. “I grew up with him. I haven’t seen him in a while but he’s a great kid, he’s got a great family, and they’ve been through so much.”
Dempsey said he suspected he might have a chance to land with the Giants as well. He had been in communication with several teams, including San Francisco.
“It was more, I put up the numbers, I put in the work and we’re going to take a chance on a guy,” Dempsey said. “And I’ll continue to work hard and see what happens from there.”
The numbers were legit. Dempsey hit .332 with seven home runs and 57 RBIs, and tied for fourth in the Mountain West with 17 doubles. Primarily a second baseman, he played five different positions for the Bulldogs, including shortstop, third base and both corner outfield spots.
Dempsey went on to be named a first-team all-Mountain West second baseman. Not bad for someone who had no four-year college offers out of Serra in 2014. Admittedly, though, it was the best thing for him.
“I feel like going away (to Oregon State) really helped me to sit back and devote my time to realizing what I love is competing,” Dempsey said.