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Shortstop becomes a perfect fit for Sterling College

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 4:04 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, May 22, 2013, at 12:06 p.m.

There’s a rule that kids growing up in Compton, Calif., learn at a young age.

And it’s better explained by one of them.

“The Compton Crips and the Piru Bloods are the two big gangs that everybody knows about around (Compton), but there are more gangs that are just contained to smaller parts of the neighborhood,” said Sterling College shortstop Joe Williams, the KCAC Player of the Year. “So you definitely don’t wear red or blue, but you also have to watch other colors. You end up with a lot of black and white shirts. You learn that early.”

Williams, a senior, has shown that he’s so much more than where he’s from or the sport he plays in two years at Sterling after transferring from Compton College, a two-year school.

Yes, he loves baseball. But he also loves art. And rapping. And skateboarding.

And he loves getting to live somewhere he never thought he would ever be — the middle of Kansas.

All those things have added up to a piece of history, not only for No. 15 Sterling (48-12), but for the KCAC as Williams has helped lead the Warriors to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, where they’ll face Missouri Baptist (35-12) on Friday at 11 a.m. It’s the first time a KCAC team has advanced to the World Series.

Sterling, the KCAC regular season co-champion and tournament champion, defeated No. 2 Oklahoma City 1-0 on May 11 in Oklahoma City.

“It’s not just baseball with Joe ... he’s just never what you think he should be,” Sterling coach Adrian Dinkel said. “You expect a kid from the big city to come here and have issues adjusting ... he’s the opposite. You see him riding everywhere on his skateboard and you talk to him and you can tell he feels at home.

“On the field, of course he’s a freakish athlete. And I think a lot of who he is and how he acts is rooted in where he’s from ... a place where you need to always know who you’re dealing with, where you’re at, what you’re wearing and what you’re saying.”

Williams, also an All-KCAC pick in 2012, has a .395 batting average, 79 hits, 60 runs, 21 doubles and 31 RBIs — all in the top 10 in the KCAC.

Dinkel recruited another player from Compton, Harold Holbert, when he was an assistant at Bethany in 2008. He knew Williams’ youth coach, Shannon Williams — no relation — who runs Major League Baseball’s RBI program in Compton that’s geared at bringing baseball back to inner-city youths.

“Shannon Williams taught us what he called an ‘inner-city’ style of baseball, which means you run hard, play fast and show off your attributes,” Joe Williams said. “Speed never takes a day off. The RBI program is a big reason why I’ve experienced so much success coming from a place where we had some hard times growing up, a lot of people I know gang-banging, doing the wrong things ... you have to make choices.”

Williams’ mother, Kim, remembers when Joe was once playing a youth baseball game in Compton and a group of gang members walked across the field — in the middle of the inning.

“It was an RBI game, right over by 150th and Hoover, and three or four (of the gang members) just walked right through the game,” Kim said. “The kids stopped, watched them walk across the field and then we were just like ‘OK, let’s get back to the game.’

“This is their turf, their area. You just deal with it. Joe started playing baseball when he was very, very young and then his interests just grew around it. He even was a rapper for a little while, just ask him and he’ll give you one of his tapes ... he’s always had so many outlets.”

Williams was familiar to the gang members, but only because he always seemed to be either in a baseball uniform or on a skateboard — his nicknames in the neighborhood growing up were “Little Baseball Joe” and “Skateboard Joe.”

“Joe is his own man, that’s what we’ve always taught him,” said his father, Joe Williams Sr. “We always told him to stick up for his beliefs and pursue his interests and people would respect that.”

Williams spent his first two years of high school at Compton High, then transferred to Canyon Springs High, where the competition was better in baseball.

And when Dinkel approached him with an offer to come to Sterling, some 1,500 miles from home, he decided to take the leap.

“(Dinkel) asked me if I was willing to help change the culture of a program, and I said if the scholarship was right and the education was right, I was in,” Williams said. “There really wasn’t a culture shock like you might think. It was more of a weather shock, where I had to get used to the crazy changes in weather that happen in Kansas. You start practice and it’s 80 degrees and by the end there’s a wind-chill factor? What’s that?”

The Warriors split the KCAC title with Tabor last season and again this year before their upset of Oklahoma City, the same team that denied them a spot in last year’s World Series.

“We’re just sorta soaking it in right, we planned to do this, to make it to (the World Series),” Williams said. “We weren’t surprised by our success. We think this is going to be a great experience ... when we drove back into town for the first time, we got an escort from a fire truck, which was pretty cool.”

Williams is one semester away from getting his degree in physical education with a minor in art. If he can’t catch on in pro baseball, he said he’ll come back to Sterling to finish his degree and be a graduate assistant for baseball.

“I’ve talked to some scouts and some people back home,” Joe said. “I’d love to keep playing.”

Reach Tony Adame at tadame@wichitaeagle.com or 316-268-6284. Follow him on Twitter: @t_adame.

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