July 29, 2017
Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology
For as long as I can remember I wanted to play professional baseball. I would grab pillows for catcher’s gear and grab a plastic basketball hoop for a mask to be just like Mike Piazza. At the same time I would twirl up my best tornado impression of Hideo
Nomo and deliver the pitch to myself. Boy those were the days! Fast forward up to high school and I was a young kid dead set to play professional baseball. I didn’t make it past college baseball, but through the years I worked every single day thinking I could one day be a #2 starter behind Kershaw with the Dodgers. Every kid should reach for the stars that way. But I didn’t have the size nor the athletic ability of my peers. I always thought that I would be devastated the day I would have to hang up my cleats, but it didn’t end in the wreck that I thought I’d be.
Throughout my career I experienced a lot of ups and downs, all of which shaped me into the person that I am today. Starting in high school, I believe I always had the work ethic to make it to the ultimate goal. To be truthful I don’t think we are ever working as hard as we think we are. I can only speak for myself through all of my experiences, but I think that every kid dreaming of playing at the next level can take information from everyone with a grain of salt. What fueled me as a player was my size, a 5’8, 180 lb. kid who probably only grew an inch or two in high school. I heard it all for many years through high school and college career; that I was too small, I didn’t throw hard enough, some of you have heard that before right? Well it always pushed me to work harder than the guy next to me. I was always fortunate throughout the years to have teammates who wanted to put in the long hours. From hitting in the cage, lifting weights, long tossing and running sprints. I learned a lot of things up to my senior year in college, so here are some of the things that I learned along the way.
I always took a lot of pride in trying to be that ideal teammate. The selfless guy that tried to always do things the right way. The little things always mattered, like showing up early, picking your up your teammate when he’s struggling, making sure the bucket’s filled up during BP. But there is a degree where you do have to look out for yourself. I felt extremely undervalued on my high school team and felt that I didn’t get the playing time that I deserved. That was my opinion. It didn’t really matter on a team of 20+ guys, but I reached the point of frustration to where I realized that I was not going to make it to the college level. I made the tough decision to quit my high school team heading into the season and joined the travel ball team that I had played with over the years in the offseason. I know that it didn’t leave me as a very popular guy, and it was the first time that I decided to be that selfish guy on the team. I had a really great time playing high school ball and I took a lot of pride in representing my school, but at the time I felt like it was the best decision for me to make. I felt terrible about it, but I did something that I believe gave me a better opportunity to get to the next level. I am not telling you that you should quit your team when things aren’t going your way, but there might be a time where you will have to make a decision for yourself.
Playing with the southern California club ABD was a life-changing experience.
For over two decades this program was producing talent that was consistently seeing guys in the draft and getting baseball scholarships. This is a place where I felt I belonged. Trying to keep myself in an ego check here, I was a kid topping out at 80 mph competing against some of the best players in the country. I mean some dudes were throwing 95, dropping bombs and getting serious looks by MLB scouts. Every weekend consisted of doubleheaders with multiple college and pro scouts in attendance at pretty much every game. But most importantly, the coaching staffs were tremendous. Led by the late Mike Spiers, ABD had a system that implemented hard work and accountability both on and off the field. If a coach asked you what the count was and you hesitated, you were sprinting to the foul pole before you could even answer. You were not allowed to wear a hat indoors and you always had to be clean cut and shaven. Remember what I said about the little things? This is what mattered. Expectations were high, not just on your performance but in how you carried yourself and represented yourself as a ballplayer, your team, your family. This experience was life changing and I thank every coach that I ever had in this program. I know that travel ball isn’t always affordable for every young athlete and their family, but I highly encourage you to find programs as such that instill these values. A coach helping you with your swing or your pitching mechanics can go a long way, but this type of environment is what I believe can be the difference maker in achieving your goals to get to the next level. This environment is what drove me out of high school baseball and what I believe opened those doors for me to find a way into college baseball.
Fast forward to the end of my career with ABD, I found myself calling and emailing college coaches throughout the entire country trying to find a school to play for. I’ll be straight forward and tell you that I did not develop into the athlete that I wanted to be. I spent so many hours in the gym trying to get stronger, long tossing and flat grounds, and most of all studying the pros to see what I could do to elevate my game. I can go a lifetime talking about where I went wrong with my training, so I’ll save it for another journal. But I found myself at a point of extreme disappointment, thinking that maybe I just didn’t have what it takes to make it to the next level. But given the coaches and support system that I had through all the years I knew that I couldn’t give up. My 19 year old self throwing 80 mph still believed that I could make it to the pros. Like I said I learned a lot. After what was probably 100 calls and emails, a Kansas City coach, Daryl Cronk at Avila University told me that he had a spot for me.
I discovered Avila through an Instagram post from a teammate that went to a camp where Coach Cronk was at in San Diego, CA. I did some research and what convinced me was 2 things: there was an MLB team there and the team had a lot of California players. Where do I sign! Turns out it was a solid NAIA program that this coach was constantly leading the team to national tournaments. This decision shaped my life in more ways that I could have ever imagined. I was once again surrounded by an environment filled with great teammates and excellent resources to become a better student-athlete. It wasn’t an NCAA D1 school, but it was an opportunity to play the college game. Being a student-athlete at Avila enabled me to find new passions outside of baseball, one in particular with kinesiology. I got to play baseball every day and made some lifelong friends with memories forever engrained in my heart. I don’t know how much my high school decisions lead me to Avila, but through the process I learned a lot of things not only about baseball but about myself as a person. If you do what you love and put 100% of your heart into it, I promise you that you will never walk away with regret.
Like I said earlier, you can take everything with a grain of salt. Some of you young guys reading this might have that 6+ foot frame and have that 90+ mph fastball that’s getting you into a top college baseball program or maybe even pro. Some of you might be like me, having to work harder than everyone else just to get people’s attention to your skills and abilities. Regardless I encourage you to keep grinding. The grind never stops and remember that there is always someone out there working harder than you. Some guys have it easy and others have it tough, but this game WILL HUMBLE YOU. I have seen a lot of guys that had tremendous talent but wasted it all away because they didn’t put the work in. I can’t tell you the keys to making it to pro ball because I didn’t get there, but I will tell you that there is always competition for the spot that you want. Whatever your skill set, talent, or even luck, there is always a place for you if you work hard enough to get there. Not everyone gets to play the college game and there are even less that make it to pro ball, that’s just the hard reality of this wonderful game. For what it’s worth, cherish the opportunities that you have to play this game. Whatever level you get to play at, make the most out of the opportunity and do what you can to create that ideal environment. Some programs may not have it for one reason or another, but it is up to you make things that way. Know your role and excel at it, because one day you might get to play on that big stage. I didn’t get to crack the rotation with Kershaw, but playing at the Z was greatest place to play the game.