Bob Lutz: El Dorado’s Baptista won’t give up on dream

08/12/2012 8:16 AM

08/05/2014 8:23 PM

As his line shot zoomed over the first-base bag and into right field, Daniel Baptista thought double all the way.

There were no outs, it was a scoreless game in the middle innings and Baptista knew getting to second would give the El Dorado Broncos a great opportunity to break through.

As he rounded first, the right fielder for the Seattle Studs neared the ball. It was going to be bang-bang. Half of the Broncos fans were probably glad to see Baptista’s aggression; the other half wished they had reins to pull him back.

Baptista was out at second. El Dorado didn’t score in the inning. But it was a decision Baptista would make again. All 6-feet-5 and 290 pounds of him.

Baptista had three hits in the NBC World Series game against St. Joseph, which the Broncos finally won, 1-0. He also walked. He is more than just an imposing figure when he steps into the batter’s box, he’s a giant.

A giant who can hit to all fields, who batted .375 as a senior at Oklahoma Baptist in 2012 with 18 homers and 82 RBI in just 61 games. He was an NAIA All-American and, according to his coach, one of the best hitters to come through OBU.

But Baptista was not chosen in MLB’s June draft and he’s hoping to impress a scout — any scout — during the NBC tournament, where he has hit over .400 in the Broncos’ three games and will try to do more damage Tuesday against the St. Joseph (Mo.) Mustangs at 7:30. Both teams are 3-0 in the World Series.

Baptista, a northern Californian who attended junior college for two years before going to OBU, said he has only talked to one scout in his life.

“I got in touch with a Brewers scout this year after I got back to California for a bit,’’ Baptista said.

It’s difficult to know what scouts think about a particular player, especially one like Baptista. He obvious has a live bat, although while using wood bats this summer with the Broncos he has hit only one homer.

His body limits Baptista defensively, although he says he has worked to improve his defense.

“We tried selling him really hard to the scouts we see,’’ Oklahoma Baptist coach Bobby Cox said. “We just never could get any interest. I don’t know if it’s his position or not. Being limited to first base is tough.’’

But where else do you put a guy who weighed more than 300 pounds before trimming down when he arrived at Oklahoma Baptist?

Baptista looks more like an offensive lineman than a baseball player, and he did give football a shot when he was in high school in Fairfield, Calif. Three of his uncles played football at San Diego State, he said.

At Fairfield, he was an honorable mention all-league kicker, if you can imagine a 275-pound kicker.

“I also played offensive line, defensive line, tight end, punter,’’ Baptista said. “But I only played for one year because my true love is baseball.”

He has always been a big San Francisco Giants fan and said former Giants second baseman Jeff Kent was his favorite player as a kid.

“There was just something about the way he played,’’ Baptista said. “I’m not sure what it was.”

Baptista was a soccer goalie, too, but he gave up that sport to concentrate on baseball when he was 14.

“Nobody could get a soccer ball past me,” he said.

Baseball has never come easily for Baptista. And maybe, he admits, that’s the reason he’s so enamored with the sport.

“Baseball is not only a sport, it’s life,” Baptista said. “It really teaches you life lessons. You have no choice but to learn to deal with failure and that’s something that helps you through the rest of your life.”

The left-handed hitting Baptista said he adjusted his swing at OBU to take advantage of the ballpark, where the wind consistently blows to left field. Always primarily a pull-hitter, he started to hit the ball the other way, eventually with power. Most of his homers this season, he said, were to left field.

So it was surprising on Saturday night to see the Seattle defense pull a shift on Baptista when he came to the plate. The second baseman played in shallow right field with the shortstop playing on the second-base side of the infield. The center and right fielders bunched together, leaving a small hole in right-center field.

But in his final at-bat, Baptista hit a ball that found that hole for his third hit, capping a big offensive night.

“I didn’t even realize where they were playing me,’’ Baptista said. “When I hit that ball, I thought it went over the right fielder’s head. But it was the second baseman’s head.’’

There was no opportunity for Baptista to attempt to stretch the hit into a double. He stopped at first, happy to have another hit but unsure of where he goes, baseball-wise, after the tournament ends.

“I hope there’s some type of contract, even with an independent team,” Baptista said.

If not, he’ll return to Oklahoma Baptist and finish up work on his degree in sports management.

“I want to be a coach, a scout, an agent, an athletic director — something that will let me stay in this game,” Baptista said.

His first choice is to be a player. Unfortunately, somebody else will have to make that decision.

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