Robin Ventura is one of the greatest players in college baseball history.
Born in Santa Maria, California – 160 miles northwest of Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast – on this date in 1967, Robin Mark Ventura attended Righetti High School in nearby Orcutt. A high school prodigy, Ventura struck fear into opposing pitchers. As a senior, he was walked 30 times in 20 games – 17 intentionally. One of those intentional walks came with the bases loaded. Ventura, who throws righty but bats from the left side, had scholarship offers from several schools. After visiting UCLA, where he recalls being the only person in the stands, Ventura chose to attend Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State University was an established baseball power under coach Gary Ward when Robin Ventura arrived in Stillwater in the fall of 1985. The Cowboys had made five straight trips to the College World Series. Ventura, part of a highly-touted recruiting class, was expected to replace Pete Incaviglia, who hit .464 with 48 home runs and 143 RBI in 1985, single-season records for homers and runs-batted-in that still stand.
In three seasons at OSU, the sweet-swinging lefty put up unfathomable numbers at the plate. He burst onto the scene as a freshman, hitting 21 home runs in only 69 games while leading the nation in runs , RBI  and total bases . Ventura adjusted to collegiate pitching quickly. In his first year in Stillwater, Ventura batted .469 to break the school record Incaviglia had set the previous season. After setting an OSU record by hitting safely in 24 straight games, Ventura was named Freshman of the Year by Baseball America.
“Rockin’ Robin” was even better in his second season in Stillwater. He hit .428, belted 21 homers and drove in 110 runs to lead Division I in RBI for the second straight year. Ventura was named College Player of the Year after leading OSU to the finals of the College World Series, where they lost to Stanford in the final, 9-5. As a junior, Ventura batted .391 with 24 home runs and 88 runs batted in. After leading the Cowboys to a 61-8 record, the hard-hitting third baseman became the only position player ever to earn three First-Team All-American honors. Mr. Ventura won the 1988 Golden Spikes Award, along with the Dick Howser Award, as college baseball’s best player.
In the summer of 1941, New York Yankee great Joe DiMaggio established one of the most remarkable records in baseball history by hitting safely in 56 consecutive games. The feat was not surprising, as “Joltin’ Joe” put together a 61-game streak in the minor leagues. DiMaggio’s mark still stands, and is considered one of the most unbreakable records in sports.
During his sophomore season in 1987, Ventura set an NCAA record by hitting safely in 58 straight games. The previous mark of 47 was set by Wichita State’s Phil Stevenson in 1981. Ventura’s streak began in Oklahoma State’s 12th game of the season, a lopsided win over Missouri Southern on March 18. It reached 40 during a doubleheader at Iowa State on May 2, and Ventura tied Stevenson in an 18-14 win over Missouri on the final day of the regular season. The hits came early. Only once during the entire streak – against Kansas on April 17 – did Ventura wait until his last at bat of the game to collect a hit, which he did on a 3-2 count to put his streak at 30.
Ventura torched Big Eight pitching during the season-ending conference tournament, going 11-for-12 en route to being named tournament MVP. His streak now at 51 games, the 19-year-old sophomore began garnering national attention from ESPN as Oklahoma State entered the NCAA tournament. “Too much attention for me,” said Ventura decades later. “I was not real comfortable that they were trying to make it more about me than our team.” After collecting hits in each of the first four games of the Mideast Regional in Starkville, Mississippi, Ventura’s streak reached 55 games, one shy of DiMaggio’s mark. In the fifth and final game of the regional, he tied Joltin’ Joe with a solo homer in the first inning of a 11-9 won over Texas A & M to send the Cowboys to the College World Series.
On the biggest stage in college baseball, Ventura collected a hit in the opener against Arizona State. The streak was 57. Four days later, he doubled off LSU right hander Ben McDonald to reach 58. In Game 3 against undefeated Stanford, Ventura was hitless in four trips to the plate off Jack McDowell, who would go on to become his future teammate with the Chicago White Sox. After OSU chased McDowell with a six-run sixth inning, Ventura faced Al Osuna, who had come on in relief, in the ninth inning. With two outs and nobody on, the Cowboys’ slugger hit a sharp one-hopper to Stanford second baseman Frank Carey, who knocked the ball down before throwing wildly to first base for an error. The streak was over. OSU went on the win the game and faced Stanford again in the final. Despite Ventura’s 4-for-5 performance at the plate in the championship game, OSU lost, 9-5.
After Ventura’s streak ended, DiMaggio told the Associated Press, “I don’t care what league you’re in, it’s not easy hitting in 58 games in a row.” The following year, Ventura met DiMaggio when the Yankee Clipper attended the 1988 Golden Spikes Award ceremony in New York City.
In three seasons at Oklahoma State, Ventura batted .428, knocked in 302 runs, compiled a slugging percentage of .792 and led OSU to two College World Series appearances. He played for the Hyannis Mets in the Cape Cod Summer League in 1987, where he hit .370 with a league-leading 37 RBI. Rockin’ Robin won a gold medal as part of Team USA at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, batting .409 during the tournament. Ventura was the tenth overall selection of the 1988 Major League Baseball Draft and played for four teams over 16 big league seasons. A two-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove third baseman, Ventura is third on the all-time list for most 90-RBI seasons by third basemen, behind Mike Schmidt and Eddie Matthews.
Ventura hit 294 major league home runs and was particularly dangerous with the bases loaded. He hit two grand slams in one game in September 1995 and is the only player to hit a grand slam during each end of a doubleheader. Ventura hit 18 career grand slams, tying him with Willie McCovey for fifth on the all-time list. Mr. Ventura is a member of the Cape Cod Summer League Hall of Fame and is a member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame, having been inducted as a charter member in 2006. In October 2009, Ventura was enshrined into the Oklahoma State Hall of Fame, along with Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders and country music artist Garth Brooks.
Happy 50th birthday to the Baseball America 1980s Player of the Decade and the starting third baseman for college baseball’s All-Time Team.