Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, the one they call “Red,” worked and worked to carve a place for himself in the league since graduating from Cal State Fullerton in 2006.
Now, the 32-year-old batting a career-high .374 has reached heights few could have predicted, as he was selected to the 2017 MLB All-Star Game by winning the Final Vote. He received 20.8 million votes by text and online, a record for the competition.
“I don’t think it’ll set in for awhile,” he said prior to the All-Star game, referring to earning his first All-Star selection. “The amount of support and the votes, setting a record – it’s very humbling.”
“I can’t believe the amount of support I got from everyone,” Turner said. “Just unbelievable.”
Turner, who went 0 for 1 in the 2-1 American League All-Star victory on July 11, has helped elevate the Dodgers to a 64-29 record as of Sunday, the best in Major League Baseball. He has 89 hits in 238 at-bats, plus 11 home runs, 42 runs scored, 39 RBI to go along with a .469 on-base percentage.
He has long had the energy, the motivation, the passion — the intangibles coaches can’t teach. It would make sense he honed his game at four-time national champion Cal State Fullerton, a place for what those within the program call “grinders”: coachable players, hard-working players, elite players, many of whom, for one reason or another, were overlooked as high-schoolers.
That happened to Turner, as other schools weren’t exactly lining up to sign him out of Mayfair High School. But the Long Beach native dreamed of becoming a Titan, serving as a batboy for the program growing up. Turner’s father was friends with Rick Vanderhook, the Titans’ current coach.
Turner, who competed for the Titans from 2003 to 2006, eventually helped the Titans win the 2004 national championship. That year, Fullerton defeated Texas, 3-2.
“I think he’s probably played with a chip on his shoulder for a long period of time, even now,” said George Horton, Turner’s former CSUF coach who now coaches at the University of Oregon.
“I think the good thing about Red is that he’s never satisfied. He’s always thinking about getting better and improving.”
“There’s never a finish line, as I like to say, for him. It’s always about something else,” Horton said.
Turner made an impact in college right away, as he was named a freshman All-American and was named to the College World Series all-tournament team in 2003.
He still ranks in the Top 10 in school history in numerous categories including games played (253), at bats (1008), hits (331), runs (202), doubles (61), total bases (430), hit by pitches (46) and sacrifice hits (38).
His biggest contribution, however, extended beyond the box score.
“Leadership,” Horton said. “He’s a very, very knowledgeable baseball player. He drank the Titan Kool-Aid, so to speak. He was totally invested in our style of play and our culture and he grew up wanting to be a Titan. He was a Titan, and he just conveyed that to everyone around him.”
“Not only was he a good player but he made other players around him better,” Horton said. “He was a great leadership guy, a guy that was like having another coach on the field when he played for me at Cal State Fullerton.”
Turner continued to push himself when he reached the pros, after playing two seasons with the Baltimore Orioles and four with the New York Mets. He became a free agent when the Mets failed to offer a 2014 contract.
He dedicated himself to a rigorous diet and strength-training regimen, and labored on his mechanics, his swing. The work paid off, as he signed a $64-million, four-year contract with the Dodgers in December, finally finding his niche.
“That’s part of his desire and his passion to be as good as he can be,” Horton said. “That led him to that direction that a lot of people when they get to the major-league level, they start blaming other people for the lack of opportunity or lack of playing time or whatever, they quit working out like they did to get there.”
“I think when he left the Mets he decided he didn’t want to just be a utility player or a guy that was sweating out a contract each and every year,” Horton said. “He stepped in with both feet and it paid off dividends for him and the Dodgers.”
Turner became the 11th Titan to be selected for the All-Star Game, the first since Kurt Suzuki was chosen in 2014. Other former Titan All Stars include Ricky Romero (2011), Aaron Rowand (2007), Chad Cordero (2005), Phil Nevin (2001) and Tim Wallach (1984-85, 1987, 1989-90).
“That program is known for having guys that are well schooled, well versed in the game and how to play the game, the details of the game,” Horton said. “It’s not all about George Horton, it’s not all about Rick Vanderhook, it’s not all about (former CSUF coaches) Augie Garrido and Dave Serrano, but certainly there’s a tree there and a philosophy there that’s been passed along to all of us and Red believed in that.”
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