Losing is said to leave a bitter taste in an athlete’s mouth. Cabrillo College sophomore pitcher John Breidenthal said the remedy didn’t taste much better.
The Seahawks’ baseball team was crushed by De Anza 12-1 in a nonconference game March 8, officially wiping out its early season magic. A 7-1 start had morphed into an 8-8 record thanks to unfocused, selfish and incohesive play. Hoping to lighten the mood the next day at practice but still send a message, head coach Bob Kittle set up a table outside his office with a bottle containing a gold liquid.
Its makeshift label read: “Drink this if you want to win.”
One by one, the Seahawks sized up the liquid. Some stared extensively, others smelled it.
Breidenthal didn’t hesitate. He stepped up and took a swig.
“It’s awful,” he said.
Should be, it was apple cider vinegar.
Though Breidenthal said it was awful, he clearly meant awfully addictive. He threw a solid bullpen session that day at practice, so his next start he took another drink and had a stellar outing. He bought his own bottle and made vinegar consumption one of his pregame rituals on days he pitches.
The Seahawks have gone 17-3 since, winning their third Coast Conference Pacific Division title in the past four years and closing the regular season with a 10-game win streak.
Breidenthal will take another gulp Friday, when the No. 4 seed Seahawks (25-11) kick off the first round of the NorCal playoffs, a best-of-three series, in Aptos. Their opponent is none other than No. 13 seed De Anza (21-15), the fourth place finisher in the Coast Conference’s Golden Gate Division.
While the vinegar has little to do with Breidenthal’s success, he’s finding it hard to kick the habit. He’s one of California’s most dominant community college players. He owns the lowest ERA in the state (1.14 over a team-leading 87 innings), thanks, in part, to a 38-inning scoreless streak during the regular season, and he shares the state lead in wins (10) with Santa Rosa’s Alec Rennard.
“He’s a bulldog,” Seahawks shortstop Scott Akrop said of Breidenthal. “Even when he doesn’t have his greatest stuff he likes to compete and win. He is, without a doubt, the best pitcher in the state.”
Breidenthal, a groundball pitcher who throws a fastball, slider and changeup, thanks his teammates for making big plays on defense and playfully credits the vinegar.
“He’s hypercompetitive,” Kittle said, “and he’s pretty hyper. The kid wants to win bad and he’ll do anything to do it. Our guys play behind him.”
“It was a lot of things,” Breidenthal, a Los Gatos High alumnus, said of his offseason transformation. “I started with the mental part. I had to sit down and think about my future and the game I’ve been playing since I was 3. I laid out my whole summer and looked for every little thing that was going to make me a better player.”
If Breidenthal didn’t turn things around, his sophomore season would likely be his last of competitive baseball. College coaches weren’t exactly kicking down the door to sign an ineffective pitcher who walked twice as many batters as he struck out, as was the case in 2015.
“I didn’t want to walk away from the game without giving it one last everything,” Breidenthal said. “I didn’t want there to be any regrets.”
By the time fall practice came around, Breidenthal had dropped from 205 pounds to 195, turning fat into muscle. His physique, attitude, focus and output on the field and in the classroom were drastic.
“He transformed himself not only into a ballplayer, but a great student and person,” said Kittle, who is in his seventh year as the Seahawks coach. “It’s one of the greatest transformations I’ve seen from my players since I’ve been here.”
Breidenthal has produced in one solid showing after another this year.
His turnaround has impressed other coaches, too. He has his options to play at the four-year level narrowed down to NCAA Division I Valparaiso and D-II programs San Francisco State and Young Harris College.
Kittle said Breidenthal has learned to control his emotions on the mound and that has made him a better pitcher, too.
One situation where he was unable to control them, though, was when teammate Michael Mine accidently broke his personal bottle of vinegar prior to a start in Monterey on March 22. Mine was a little rough throwing equipment bags off the bus.
“I heard it shatter,” Breidenthal said. “I saw my bag leaking.”
Breidenthal said he had a “slight panic attack” since he was due to take the mound that day. Kittle described it as “a conniption.”
Seahawks trainer Kenzie Somerville saved the day, though, driving to a local market to get Breidenthal a replacement bottle before his first pitch. He threw seven shutout innings in a 6-0 win.
Breidenthal will have his bottle ready to go before he faces the Dons. He can stomach as much as it takes.
“Winning conference was great,” he said, “but we have bigger goals in mind.”
Contact Jim Seimas at 831-706-3256.