It’s an unusually quiet Tuesday afternoon on the Fullerton College Campus. However, if you happen to be walking by the baseball field, you can hear the commotion echoing through the hallways. The clinging of a baseball bat hitting a ball, players chatting while they warm-up. The energy surrounding the team is relaxed, yet focused.
It is a mindset that can benefit the Hornets, (18-10,7-6) as they are in the thick of a heated race for the conference championship, in arguably the best conference in community college baseball. On the field taking batting practice is one of the Hornet’s strongest batters, his name is Julio Rivera. After a couple of looks at his smooth swing, it is easy to see why Rivera is not only one of the best batters on the team, but also in the whole Orange Empire Conference.
Rivera credits his success so far this season to the fact that he’s just happy to play baseball.
“I’ve just been really excited to play since I got here back in August, now that were in season, I’m just having fun.”
Rivera is not the only player from Puerto Rico making a splash for FC baseball as he is accompanied by his fellow statesmen, freshman outfielder Marco Rivera and sophomore first baseman Oscar Heredia; both of whom have displayed excellence both at the plate and on the field. The kids from Puerto Rico have been highly essential to the Hornets success thus far this season and look to finish out the season with a bang.
However their career here at Fullerton College is one that almost never took shape. That is because prior to this year, neither Julio nor Marco had ever even heard of Fullerton College. In fact, they had offers to play at schools in Florida and even at home in Puerto Rico. Yet they chose to make the nearly 3,400 mile trip away from home to a school that was relatively unknown to them.
That deciding factor came from their advisor, Gary Mota. Mota encouraged them to play at Fullerton College because he knows that the Orange Empire Conference is regarded as one of the best conferences in community college baseball.
Perhaps more importantly for Mota and the boys, was the fact that the Hornets boast one of the best coaches in the sport, 2013 All-American and OEC Coach of the year Nick Fuscardo.
Now some of you Fullerton College Alumni and Dodger faithful may be familiar with the name Gary Mota. That is because he is the son of Dodger legend Manny Mota, and was also once a power-hitting outfielder for the Hornets back in 1990, helping lead them to the regional conference playoffs.
A month after the season ended, Mota was drafted with the 44th pick in the second round by the Houston Astros. Highly touted for his athleticism and power at the plate, Mota went on to spend eight seasons in the minor leagues before his career was derailed by wrist injuries. He now serves as an advisor to many young ballplayers in Puerto Rico. Two of which, being Julio and Marco Rivera have been key in the Hornet batting attack.
Despite growing up just ten minutes from each other in Carmen Sol, here at FC is where the two first met.
“Great conference, great coaching and excellent weather really made the decision easy for us,” said Marco.
Although the decision might have been easy, the transition to California was a big one for the pair, especially coming to a program with high expectations every season, in a conference that features plenty of next level talent.
“It has definitely been a big transition, the baseball culture is different here,” said Julio. “You see baseball in Puerto Rico, [coaches] tell you to go hard in everything you do and do everything full speed.”
“Here at Fullerton, our coaches have taught us to slow down and focus on our mechanics and fundamentals of the game,” said Marco.
And boy has it paid off. All three players from Puerto Rico are each seeing success both individually and as a team.
Julio is batting a conference-best .411 average and is also in the top five in RBI with 19. As dangerous as he is at the plate, he may be even more lethal when he is on base, as he also leads the conference with 11 stolen bases.
Oscar Heredia has also established himself as one of the best hitters in the conference and ranks in the top five in RBI with 21, and top 10 in batting average at .356. He’s also been a nightmare for pitchers with only three strikeouts on the season, the lowest in the conference.
Marco has been highly instrumental in the Hornet offensive attack batting .296 while bringing in 15 RBI. They have helped contribute to a .300 team batting average, better than any other team in the conference. In fact, the three have been so efficient, they account for nearly 40 percent of the teams total RBI. Even more impressive, the three have only committed five fielding errors, combined.
Rather than shying away from the pressure of playing for a program with a winning tradition, the trio from Puerto Rico has embraced it and excelled. As great as their individual statistics are, there is one thing the three enjoy more.
“The goal here is to win games, and ultimately to win championships,” said Marco.
As they enter the final stretch of the season, the Hornets are third in the conference standings in a tightly contested race for the title. FC is going to need the continued production now more than ever in order to make a run at the postseason.
Like their advisor before them, they would like to either get drafted or continue their career at a four year university as kinesiology majors. Since Heredia is a sophomore, he will be looking to transfer after this season.
As freshmen, Julio and Marco still have another year to decide what it is they want to do. Regardless of the outcome of this season, one thing is for sure, these guys are proving that they are ready for the next level.