BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/California native goes from 'wispy' to hard-hitting OSU athlete

COURTESY: DAVE NISHITANI - Skeptics who told him he'd be a good fourth outfielder for Oregon State lit a fire in Steven Kwan, now one of the key players for the No. 2-ranked Beavers.CORVALLIS — Steven Kwan didn't arrive at Oregon State during the fall of 2015 expecting to conquer the world. Not even the Willamette Valley, actually.

"I had a ton of fear coming in my freshman year," OSU's junior center fielder says. "That's why I didn't succeed. I had no confidence. I was starstruck. I'd look out on the field and see guys like KJ Harrison or Trevor Morrison or Caleb Hamilton. I'd seen them on TV, and I'm thinking, 'Wow, I don't know if I'll ever become what they are.'"

The 5-9 Kwan, who had just turned 18, was a wispy 150 pounds and physically immature. Kwan played in 35 games — including 15 starts — but hit only .215, with probably half of his 14 hits coming on bunts.

"People were always telling me, 'You'd be a good pinch runner, a good fourth outfielder,'" Kwan says. "That put a chip on my shoulder. By the end of my freshman year, I'd developed enough confidence that I felt I could become a starter. I knew there was an opportunity. I felt that was my time to grasp it, to work as hard as I can and crack that lineup."

The Fremont, California, native did just that as a sophomore, hitting .331 with a .440 on-base percentage and earning the Most Outstanding Player Award at the Corvallis regional.

Kwan has upped it a notch this season for the No. 2-ranked Beavers. Going into Friday's game at Southern Cal, the lefty-hitting, lefty-throwing Kwan was among the Pac-12 leaders in batting (.372, fifth), on-base percentage (.484, fourth), runs (52, tied for third), hits (74, tied for second), walks (43, first), stolen bases (12, tied for fourth) and plate appearances (248, first).

"He has developed into a quality leadoff hitter, and he has become an excellent defensive outfielder," OSU coach Pat Casey says. "He'll do whatever we ask. He bunts. He takes pitches. He's a big-time team guy. He's a great college player. He loves to play.

"The best thing about 'Kwanny,' he puts the team ahead of himself. Some of his teammates get a lot of recognition, and they should, but he should, too. He's not very big, but he fights his way through everything."

Kwan is much thicker than when he first touched down on the OSU campus — he now tips the scales at 180 — but hasn't lost a step because of the weight gain.

"I like to say I'm the fastest on the team, but it's really close with Nick (Madrigal) and Preston (Jones)," Kwan says. "And we have a freshman coming up, Darius Foster, who is faster than all of us."

Kwan committed to Oregon State in the summer between his sophomore and junior years at Fremont's Washington High.

"That was my first offer, and I realized it would be my best one," says Kwan, who hit .462 as a senior and .489 as a junior, twice earning all-league honors. "I wasn't going to do better than Oregon State."

OSU coaches identified Kwan as a major-college talent early.

"We knew he could play at this level," associate head coach Pat Bailey says. "He just needed to get stronger. Here's the key about him: He is such a hard worker. He does a lot of stuff to get better. He is always up in the cages, working on his swing.

"Steven is making the most out of his God-given talent. He knows who he is. His job is to get on base. He does a great job of managing the strike zone."

Former Washington State coach Donnie Marbut, now working as an analyst for Pac-12 Network, calls Kwan the best leadoff hitter in the Pac-12.

"I'm not going to argue with that," Casey says. "I'd take him over anybody."

At first, Casey had Kwan a bit intimidated.

"Coach Casey is the biggest motivator ever, the best coach I've ever had," he says. "But he was really hard to play for at first. He had the look that would bring you to your knees. That played into my self-doubts; that look made you think you're the worst baseball player ever.

"But over time, I realized he knocks you down so you can get back up. Some people don't get back up. That's just life. You have to figure out a way to get back up, even stronger than you were before."

Kwan has become a team leader, mostly by example.

"He has so much energy all the time," senior pitcher Luke Heimlich says. "He is one of those guys you can count on to show up and give 110 percent. From the outside, you could never tell if he had a bad day or not.

"You know who you're going to get out of Kwan when you show up at the field. He's going to be the same guy, and he brings everybody else along with him. That's a great thing, to be able to count on someone like that."

Kwan has only one goal the rest of this season — to get to the College World Series again, and win it this time.

"I want to be a team player, to do anything I can do to help us get a national championship," he says. "We had a taste of it last year in Omaha. That was the hardest thing, to fall short of our goal. This year, I want to do anything I can to get us back there and win it all."

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