Young talent on rise for Whitman baseball

Riley Foreman

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Although the Whitman Baseball Team might still be trying to hit its stride, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom for the young squad. The program recently secured its first regular season win and glimpsed the star potential of one of its many first years.

Meet Whitman’s silver lining, Adrian Vela, a first-year from Bothell, Wash. The shortstop lit up Borleske Stadium last weekend with a solo home run during the first game of a doubleheader against Whitworth. The next day the Pirates intentionally walked Vela, who also batted leadoff, in the second inning to load the bases, setting up first-year Anthony Lim for a three-run double. With 10 games under his belt, he has posted a .390 batting average, good for 14th in the NWC entering spring break.

Vela’s offensive surge is a welcome change for the clubhouse, not to mention a surprising one, even for Vela.

“It took a while for me to realize that it was out because I didn’t get all of it,” said Vela about his home run. “I thought it was a pop up to left field.”

It might be hard to quiet his bat on the field, but for the most part, the first-year flies under the radar. Vela is noticeably more calm, cool and collected than some of his peers, but when asked about his walk-out music –– the 2005 Nelly hit “Grillz” –– he lets a quick smile escape.

Adrian Vela '18. Photo contributed by Matt Banderas.

Adrian Vela ’18. Photo contributed by Matt Banderas.

“It was more of a joke at first but everyone thinks it’s funny,” said Vela. “At times I can’t keep a straight face, but I like it and it’s worked out O.K.”

The thought passes, and then it’s back to business. For a kid that hit the first homer of his college career, he isn’t overly excited, knowing that to dwell on one at bat in a season full of them is shortsighted. Instead, the first-year is already seeking ways to improve, especially as a young but contributing member to the team.

“I think I could be playing better right now, honestly,” said Vela. “It goes to show that age shouldn’t really matter for us right now. It shouldn’t be a huge excuse because we’re all here and everybody has young players on their team. For us to be able to have younger guys step in, which we have to since we have so many, it’d be huge for us.”

The team hopes that Vela can continue to lead by example, in the same way that some of the recent baseball alumni did last season. Sophomore pitcher Nick Johnson draws a comparison between Vela and two former standout Missionaries.

“Vela is in the middle between Ozzy [Braff] and Cam [Young]. He’s a young version of both of them,” said Johnson. “He has a ways to go in terms of getting to where they were with a team role and a captain role, but he has potential.”

Head Men’s Baseball Coach Sean Kinney realized Vela’s potential long ago and has been set on cultivating his star power since the shortstop’s junior year of high school. Vela played for Cedar Park Christian, a private high school playing in the Emerald City 1A League, and later the Nisqually League. The limited exposure didn’t stop Kinney from noticing his solid defense and excellent bat speed.

“We were really high on Adrian the whole way,” said Kinney. “He was a guy that we targeted early since we thought he was a game-changer.”

Aside from Vela’s bat, both Kinney and Johnson took note of Vela’s drive and determination. Johnson hosted Vela on his recruiting visit last year, a low-key Tuesday night of homework and studying.

“I just had no idea what this kid was like,” said Johnson on his first encounter with Vela. “And then I step out on the field with him for the first time, see him field some grounders and line drives and think, ‘Wow, this kid can play.’ And then he comes out in one of the first weekends and just explodes and does really well.”

Although it might seem like Vela’s success was spontaneously triggered, the hot-hitting first year has been hard at work since fall ball began last semester. Vela also played summer league baseball with many other college-bound players on the RIPS Brewers. His commitment and attention to detail don’t go unnoticed.

Vela (center) dives for a ball in center field. Photo by John Lee.

Vela (center) dives for a ball in center field. Photo by John Lee.

“Adrian has a really good process,” said Kinney. “He’s at early work every single practice. He’s putting in the time. It’s the work you’re willing to put in when no one else is watching.”

The main focus for Vela now is winning games. If it were not for a pair of extra innings losses to Willamette earlier this season, Whitman might be 3-3. He is hopeful that his success inspires guys around him in the lineup to get on base and drive in runs. Over spring break Vela and the team will have the opportunity to do just that, with series against many division foes including Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound, both of whom sit atop the NWC.

Barring another injury to his arm, for which he underwent corrective surgery in high school, Vela is poised to move into a leading role in his career with the Whitman baseball team.