Highlands’ Martinez chosen from tryout to help build foundation
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Start-up companies aren’t expected to turn a profit in their first year.
The same principle generally applies to new baseball programs. At the professional level, expansion teams usually take a few years to compile more wins than losses. With colleges and high schools, the lack of experience tends to override the talent, for at least the first couple of years.
However, Our Lady of the Lake University baseball coach Freddy Rodriguez isn’t buying the accepted wisdom. Rodriguez has no mental safety net in place when he appraises the Saints’ chances for a winning season when they take the field for their inaugural season next spring.
“I have a lot of talent on this team,” Rodriguez said. “I just feel that we’ll compete right off the bat. I know what it takes to win in this conference and at this level. The student-athletes we were able to recruit should be very success from the start.”
Rodriguez is very knowledgeable about the Red River Conference. The 38-year-old spent nine years as baseball coach and one as athletic director at OLLU’s conference rival, Texas College.
Of the 31 players listed on the initial OLLU roster, as of Aug. 1, nine are from San Antonio or Helotes. To build a team capable of competing in the Red River Conference, Rodriguez sought out a good number of transfers from junior colleges and four-year schools to supplement the Saints’ recent high school graduates.
“I tried to get some junior college players and put them in defensive positions I could build the team around,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to be strong up the middle. Then I started looking for pitchers that could help us win ballgames. Our pitchers will be pretty young, but I think they’ll gain a lot of confidence before the year begins.
“I want to develop our pitching so that, three or four years down the road, we’ll have one of the best pitching staffs in the conference.”
Catcher Connor Kalisky, a 2012 Marshall High School grad, will be one of OLLU’s 14 relative veterans next year. Kalisky redshirted, or sat out the season to preserve a year of eligibility, in 2013 at the University of the Incarnate Word. He played only briefly as a Cardinals redshirt freshman this season.
“Having the experience I have,” said Kalisky, who’ll be a sophomore in eligibility at OLLU, “I know Coach is bringing in a lot of freshmen. I just want to pass on my experiences and help them out, especially with the mental game.”
Recent Highlands graduate Steven Martinez will be a true freshman. Martinez was selected out of a OLLU tryout on June 12. A second tryout took place July 9 to round out the roster.
“I heard about it through one of my friends,” Martinez said. “He asked if I wanted to go. I gave it a shot. I had nothing to lose. It worked out well for me.
“I felt like I did well. I fielded well and hit well. I felt like I gave a good impression of myself.”
Martinez batted .411 at Highlands this year with six doubles, three triples, a home run and 14 RBIs.
“I like the way he swings the bat from the left side,” Rodriguez said. “You can never have enough left-handed hitters or pitchers. I can see that he has a little bit of pop, but he also puts the ball in play. That’s what stood out to me the most.”
Martinez. was a very successful pitcher at Highlands, posting a 4-1 record and 1.55 ERA. The right-hander struck out 41 in 40 2/3 innings as a pitcher. The Saints will develop him as a third baseman, but Rodriguez said Martinez may pitch later in his career.
“He’s a third baseman,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to work on his defense, but his bat is what stood out to me. If there’s a situation where I feel he can help us, I’ll give him an opportunity with his pitching, too.
“We’ll try to find a spot on the field where he’s able to excel and help us win a conference championship. We’ll take it one step at a time and one day at a time.”
Before he found out about the OLLU tryout, Martinez was considering attending Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Alvin Community College or playing in a men’s league while going to one of the Alamo city colleges and looking for a transfer opportunity.
“If it didn’t work out, I was still going to play baseball,” Martinez said. “I was just staying in contact with the coach, more and more as we went along in the summer. Finally, about three or four weeks ago, he posted my name on the website.”
Now Martinez is playing in that men’s league, hitting off a batting tee and taking ground balls on a daily basis. In short, he’s honing his game to prepare for his time as a Saint.
“I was excited like everybody else,” Martinez said. “I want to do my best for the team and help us win. I want to help make this a very good baseball team for years to come.”
Rodriguez also wants to build a program that will sustain.
“I’m just excited and blessed to be at Our Lady of the Lake and in San Antonio,” he said. “Seeing the baseball teams at St. Mary’s, Incarnate Word and Trinity, and what they’re able to do – there’s no doubt that I feel we’ll be able to fit in (well) with those institutions.”
Now that the players have been assembled, the next step is team building.
“Once you get them into the program, you try to get them to play their best ball,” Rodriguez said. “We want to run the bases well, play aggressively and play hard. I think we’re going to be in good shape, in that regard.
“We’ll look at that realistically and try to fit them into our philosophy of offense, defense and pitching.”