HARWICH – On a rainy day from Whitehouse Field, Sahid Valenzuela steps into the batting practice cage and is ready to go.
First, he digs into the batter’s box from the right side. Valenzuela takes a few swings and makes solid contact before flipping over to the left side of the plate.
The Gatemen middle infielder, wearing a bright blue number 23 All-Star BP top (20 digits higher than his normal Gatemen number three), adjusts his batting gloves and begins to swing lefty.
Right away, he sprays the ball into the outfield from the left just as easily as he had done from the right.
He then takes a few more hacks and exits the cage.
“It’s a lot of fun to be out here with a bunch of good players from all over the country so it’s a pretty good experience,” Valenzuela said.
Valenzuela, from Cal State Fullerton, is undoubtedly one of the best hitters in the Cape League this summer. He is hitting .315 which ranks ninth best in the league and it was good enough to warrant a starting position in the All-Star Game for the West Division.
Ryan Garcia toes the rubber during the second inning of the CCBL All-Star Game (via CapeCod.com)
On June 22, Valenzuela burst onto the scene in his first game for the Gatemen as he went 2-4. In his next 10 games, he would record hits in eight of them. The cherry on top? He homered in his first at-bat in his home park at Spillane Field in Wareham.
Valenzuela’s success on the Cape should not come as a surprise to anyone who follows college baseball. In his freshman year, Valenzuela and the Cal State Fullerton Titans made it to the College World Series. This past year, the Titans made it to the Super Regionals. Both seasons, Valenzuela was a catalyst for his team as he hit .314 and .272 respectively.
Despite all the success for the Titans, Valenzuela had not considered that he would reach All-Star status in his first summer on the Cape.
“I never really thought about it, but it’s an honor to be here in this game,” Valenzuela said.
Valenzuela was one of 6 Gatemen chosen to represent Wareham in the CCBL All-Star Game this past Sunday afternoon in a game the West Division won 4-3.
Ryan Garcia, Bryant Packard (whose season has ended due to illness), Easton Lucas, Austin Shenton and Jeremy Ydens were the other five Gatemen selected to the West Division All-Star Team.
As Valenzuela finishes up his round of BP, Gatemen manager Don Sneddon is rounding up baseballs in center field.
While the All-Star Game is just another game for the players, it actually is different for Sneddon since he has a different role than normal.
“I’m not the head guy so I just follow order and be a good solider if you will. It’s a lot easier for me,” Sneddon said. “Jeff Trundy [Falmouth’s manager] is a great guy and I have to adapt to him since he’s in charge.”
Sneddon, who had the day off from managing, has had the luxury of managing the Gatemen for his second straight summer. He has led the team, behind his All-Star cast, to a 20-14-1 record, which is good for second in the West.
“It’s nice to be honored to show why you’re the best of the best. I’m happy for them to showcase their talents,” Sneddon said.
“You want them to do well because there is a lot of exposure here. There’s a lot of scouts and agents here so you always want them to do well. It helps their mental side knowing they can compete against the best.”
The Gatemen pitchers, Garcia and Lucas, proved that they were among the best of the best yesterday when they each threw a scoreless inning of relief.
Garcia worked a 1-2-3 second inning and struck out one batter while Lucas struck out two and also did not allow a run.
Garcia and his 1.71 ERA has been dubbed the Gatemen’s “go-to guy” by Sneddon. In each of his five starts this year, he has yet to allow more than one run in each outing.
“It’s important to be here. It definitely helps with confidence. It helps with mentality as well. On the mound, you know you’re a part of the top tier of guys and it’s fun,” Garcia said prior to his All-Star outing.
Following up Garcia’s scoreless second, Lucas entered in right behind Garcia which nothing new to him.
Lucas has relieved Garcia in four appearances this summer, making any night Garcia starts an All-Star night for the Gatemen pitching staff.
Lucas is 1-2 this summer with a 2.61 ERA over his 20.2 IP. Coming in from Pepperdine University, a school not in one of the classic “Big Five” conferences, Lucas has done more than enough so far to prove he belongs with the elite.
“This is great for him to come out and believe in himself knowing he can pitch at this level so when he goes back to Pepperdine he knows he can play because he’s pitched against the best,” Sneddon said.
As for the Gatemen offensive All-Stars, the trio of hitters (Valenzuela, Shenton and Ydens) have combined to hit .346 this summer and are undoubtedly the driving force behind the Wareham offense that has the most runs scored in the league.
“Once we lost our pop, they became even more important. They are our franchise, they are our run producers, they are our guys getting on base,” Sneddon said. “They are our everything.”
One man who truly had to change his role following the loss of the Team USA hitters (Andrew Vaughn, Bryson Stott, and Packard) was Jeremy Ydens.
After leading off for most of the season, Ydens has been bumped down in the order to the cleanup spot. Ydens has since thrived in this role, showing his true versatility as a hitter. He leads the Gatemen and the entire Cape League in RBI with 25.
The man who hits in front of Ydens, Austin Shenton, is also having himself quite the season for the record books. Shenton’s average sits at .389 which puts him second in the league in average.
After beginning the season as the team’s seven-hole hitter, it did not take long for the future All-Star to finds his way up in the middle of the Gatemen order. And in the game yesterday, he found himself in a familiar spot, in the top third of the batting order.
Even though Shenton acknowledged yesterday was “Just another game. 9 innings, 27 outs”, he and his Gatemen teammates also realized how special it was yesterday to be at Whitehouse Field.
“It’s going to be fun playing with and against some guys I’ll see on the TV someday and hopefully play against at that stage,” Shenton said prior to the game. “I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity.”
“It means a lot,” Garcia said of the All-Star selection. “Its’s an honor to be representing Wareham and especially our college, UCLA with Jeremy. It’s been a fun atmosphere.”