VANCOUVER — Connor Noble is soft-spoken by nature, yet give him the ball on game days and he’ll show you an edge and a level of grit that in musical terms might best be described as ballsy blues rock.
With that in mind, it seems only fitting that each time the UBC staff ace begins his stroll to the mound in the top of the first inning at Thunderbird Park, the air is suddenly filled with the tones of a psychedelic, wah-wah inflected lead guitar passage.
It’s the beginning to the classic Jimi Hendrix track Voodoo Child, and as Noble’s self-chosen entrance music, its quick crescendo from quiet to loud symbolizes the the transformation the ‘Birds staff ace undergoes from that of understated leader to innings-eating bulldog.
“I knew Hendrix was a northwest guy who even spent a little time in Vancouver so I checked it out and it was a pretty cool song,” says Noble. “I love the intro, and the build-up to when Jimi starts singing.”
Thus far, it’s been a case of classic rock as the soundtrack to a classic season.
On Friday (1 p.m.), Noble (4-0, 1.31 ERA) is expected to once again get a series-opening start as UBC (19-8 overall, 9-5 conference) opens a three-day, five-game homestand against traditional powerhouse Lewis-Clark State at Thunderbird Park. Remaining games in the series: 3:45 p.m. Friday, 1, 3:45 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. Sunday.
The reigning Cascade Collegiate Conference Pitcher of the Week, Noble is coming off a seven-inning shutout performance last week in a 7-0 ‘Birds win over the visiting College of Idaho Yotes in which he fanned six batters and consistently worked himself out of daunting jams.
His ERA tops all starters on the NAIA West Region leaderboard and earlier this season, he pitched a six-inning, two-hitter at Lewis-Clark, fanning five in a game UBC won 6-3.
“He is the ultimate gamer,” says UBC head coach Chris Pritchett, whose club is 7-0 in games the former Vancouver College Fighting Irish grad has started. “This is the kid you give the ball to and expect a consistent performance from.
“Even when the stuff you have isn’t your best, he is the kind of player who can keep you in a game. His last shutout is evidence of that. He still navigates you through and gets a win. It’s what he’s really good at.”
Last season, the perception was that Noble played third fiddle on the ‘Birds staff to both Curtis Taylor and Alex Webb, picked respectively in the fourth and ninth rounds of the MLB draft by Arizona and Cincinnati.
And while there was no question the daily environment was a great one for Noble, Pritchett stresses that his current ace brought his own share of positives to the group.
“On a staff with a fourth- and ninth-round pick, Connor is someone who would have been a No. 1 on a lot of teams in our league,” says Pritchett. “I am sure it went both ways (last season). He rubbed off on them just like they rubbed off on him. When you’re around talented players, it can’t help but raise your game.”
Now in his senior season, after beginning his collegiate career with two seasons at the juco level (Central Arizona), Noble has arrived at a senior season in which all of his hard work has been brought to the fore.
For his part, he’s taking nothing for granted.
“I want to be the guy that gives you a good game every time out,” says Noble, who spent time with the Canadian junior national team at the end of his Grade 12 year. “I want to leave it all on the field in my last season. Repetition has helped me get comfortable with my mechanics, my command and being able to change locations.”
Pritchett has seen just that as Noble has continued to up his game under the eye of pitching coach Wayne Corness.
“Connor has the ability to throw any pitch at any time in the count and that pitchability makes him deceptive,” continues Pritchett. “He has above-average command for this level and the equalizer is his change-up. When it’s good, it makes it really hard to time his fastball, so it becomes sneaky. And he has never been afraid to go after hitters.”
Adds Noble, who has 39 punch-out in 44 innings this season: “I’ve always tried to be a strikeout-per-inning guy. I try to keep hitters off balance by changing speeds so that my fastball can come quicker. That has all come as I have developed a better understanding of myself as a pitcher.”
Which of course, in a program that has consistently produced MLB draft picks, brings us around to the question of hearing his own name called by the big leagues this coming June.
“It’s definitely something I have thought about and wanted since I was a kid,” he says, “but I am just trying to put together a good season, game-by-game, and then just go from there and not let the outside thoughts get in.
“If it happens, it happens. In the future I would definitely love to play professional baseball.”
And that game-by-game process?
Like any player worth his salt, Noble has his share of superstitions, including having to shampoo his hair every morning without fail, and often times singing to himself on the mound.
“I don’t sing as much as I used to and it’s just in my head when I do,” he says. “Not out loud.”
Connor Noble will leave all of that to Jimi Hendrix. Then he’ll take the ball and get ready for a battle.
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