March 20, 2016
The baseball team at Jurupa Valley High School is off to a strong start this season, thanks to a focus on fundamentals – and an inspirational changeup.
The Jaguars placed third in the Citrus Hill Tournament this month while posting a 4-2 record through Monday, March 21. The season runs 24 games plus the playoffs starting in May.
Why the early success? The squad's 38 varsity and JV players are steeped in the fundamentals, said Coach Paul Kumamoto. Drills emphasize pitching, defense, batting to advance the runner and of course, character: "We require them to be gentlemen on and off the field, to be hard workers and hustlers, and to be humble and to work well together," he said.
Oh, and there's one other (pretty big) thing: learning to fail with patience while sustaining determination. "A good player has to be a grinder, because baseball is a game of failure," Coach Kumi said. "A good hitter gets out 70% of the time" – yet needs to persevere despite that reality. "It teaches a lot about life."
Enter the inspirational changeup: a JVHS alumnus who personifies perseverance (and throws a wicked slider). Last month, Washington Nationals pitcher Rafael Martin, Class of 2002, dropped by the JVHS practice field. He spent two afternoons with the team, signing autographs, pitching to seven current JVHS players, and sharing his story.
Here is the short version: Martin worked four years in construction after high school, played three years in the Mexican Baseball League, and spent five seasons in the minors before the Nationals called him to The Show in 2015.
The star's lesson of determination resonated, said Coach Kumi: "Anything can happen if you have a dream. Keep working at your trade."
It's advice the Jaguars have embraced and will take through the rest of the season. Their next tournament is the week of March 28 in Norco, where the team will display fundamentals and a little something more. Martin's visit and success story "inspired them," added Coach Kumi, "and it's continued to inspire them."