Fred Patterson knew early that the youngest of his three sons was destined to follow in his cleats.
“Steven was always tagging along with his plastic bat and ball,” said Fred, a former standout at UC Davis who later played adult baseball while coaching his two older sons, Maurice and James, in youth ball. “We’d be at six to eight games in a week, and you could see even then he loved the game. But I never made him bat left-handed. That was something he decided to do on his own.”
Having watched his father play in the adult league, Steven Patterson started swinging left-handed, mowing down grandma’s front-yard tulips at age 5. Now a 21-year-old senior at his father’s alma mater and playing the same position, second base, Steven credits his powers of observation, a skill he carried through youth and high school and into college.
“I was born a right-hander,” Steven said. “To this day, I do everything right-handed, including golf. But the first time I really noticed my dad was hitting left-handed, I decided to turn around and hit like him.”
Like father, like son.
Steven batted .324 last season for the Aggies, the same average his father compiled 35 years ago at UC Davis. Fred points out that he played in Division II , which is why he marvels at his son’s accomplishments in the highly regarded Big West Conference.
“Steven has worked so hard to get where he is,” Fred said. “The training and the demands are a lot different now. I was a baseball player growing up, but I did football in college to pass the time. You can’t do that anymore.”
Last season, Patterson drove in 33 runs and made second-team All-Big West. He was the seventh-toughest player to strike out in the nation in Division I, whiffing once every 20.4 at-bats. This season, Patterson leads the Aggies with 18 RBIs, is second in slugging percentage at .453 and is third in hitting at .321.
Patterson is one of 30 players nominated for the 2014 Senior CLASS Award. An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the award recognizes those across the country who perform well in the community, classroom and on the field.
In June, Patterson hopes to be selected in the major-league draft, which would be impressive considering he had no scholarship offers coming out of St. Mary’s High School in Stockton and had to attend community college to improve his status from all-hit, suspect defender to all-around player.
San Joaquin Delta College coach Reed Peters recalled Patterson’s game as a little rough and his body as a little too soft.
“He came to us as a one-tool guy who showed a little power,” said Peters, the brother of former UC Davis coach Rex Peters. “He was a little roly-poly and didn’t have the greatest hands in the world for an infielder.”
But Patterson worked incessantly to get better.
An undersized linebacker in high school, Patterson began to add muscle to his 5-foot-10, 200-pound frame. He took countless ground balls and worked overtime to improve his timing and agility.
As a freshman, he helped Delta win the 2011 California Community College state championship, then as a sophomore third baseman became an All-American as he averaged .380, hit six home runs and drove in 33 runs.
“Going to Delta was one of the best decisions I made,” Patterson said. “It allowed me to continue to learn the game so I could be 100 percent ready physically and mentally to play at the D-I level.”
Despite numerous schools showing interest, Patterson wanted to play for his father’s alma mater. Having attended UCD football games growing up, he had come to like the campus and community, and, much like Patterson’s game, UC Davis’ baseball team was under the radar with something to prove.
With All-Big West third baseman Paul Politi returning for his senior season, Patterson found himself playing second base at UC Davis. With his left-handed swing more potent than ever, he likely has raised his draft stock, even though he was bypassed after his junior season.
“I think he’s going to get a shot,” said Peters, who reached Triple A in the Angels and Giants organizations. “He’s a left-handed hitter with pop who now can play second, third and even a little outfield. He’s made himself into a player.”
If the pros don’t call, Patterson should graduate with a degree in communications in the fall. He could join his father, who founded a company that videotapes high school and youth sports.
Patterson also could find his way into coaching.
He received his CLASS Award nomination partly for his work with children, teaching baseball skills at youth camps and St. Mary’s, where his father coached junior varsity baseball for six seasons.
“I enjoy giving back to the game and teaching kids the way that I’ve been taught,” Patterson said. “I feel I’ve been taught the right way: Give 100 percent, use the fundamentals and respect the game.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.