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I’ve been playing baseball since I was 4 or 5 years old. But no matter what level I am at, I always try to keep the same mentality. From high school to college to the USA National team, I always try to stay focused and not let myself get too high or too low. That’s the mentality that I’ve learned really leads to success.
For me, baseball started to get serious when I started at Valencia High School in California. My freshman year I spent much of the fall and winter practicing with the Varsity squad and I loved the competition. That varsity team was filled with a ton of talent and exceptional players, so I wasn’t disheartened when I was slotted to play with the JV team. Players like Shane Zeile, Brian Mundell, Trey Williams, AJ Balta and many more taught me how to compete at a higher level, so I’d be ready when it was my turn.
During my sophomore year, I achieved what had been a dream for a while: making the varsity team. This was also when I really began to realize my potential. Earning First Team All-Foothill League Honors, I was proud to feel like I belonged. Not only did I prove to others that I was capable of playing at the Varsity level, but also to myself that I had a future in baseball. From then on, my confidence grew but I still tried to approach the game with the same mentality as before.
Although I had two years of successful play under my belt by the end of my Junior season, I still didn’t have any real interest from colleges. It was especially difficult as many of my teammates were committing before their senior year, and I felt like I was left out.
There were times where I thought to myself, what are these players doing that I’m not? But that didn’t change the type of person or player I was. My mentality was the same and now I was just committed to working harder.
Going into my senior year, I finally started to get some interest from schools. I received three offers to play collegiate baseball, which made me realize my dream of playing college baseball was going to come true. The first team that offered me was UC Davis and then the University of San Diego. But the University who offered me last, really stuck out.
That University was the University of California, Irvine.
Now, every athlete at some point in their life creates a list of colleges where they dream of playing. For me, UCI was on that list. Although I still had a tough decision to make, I knew deep down that I couldn’t see myself playing anywhere else.
In the end, I ultimately chose UC Irvine as they were the school that appealed to me in every aspect. A great coaching staff, paired with a beautiful campus and top notch academics, I couldn’t have been happier with my decision.
As I mentioned before, I didn’t receive college baseball attention until late in high school. I always figured the reason for that was due to my size and lack of projectability. People say I don’t pass the typical eye test of being over six feet or have the tools of a typical great baseball player. I’m also not a super fast runner or have a cannon of an arm.
But, for as long as I can remember, I could hit.
This is why, when I was making my transition to UCI, I was excited to help contribute. I didn’t really let the criticism or being overlooked get to me. I’m not really the type of person to dwell on what others think of me, so I simply stuck to my mentality and approach. I figured God had a plan for me and wherever I end up I’ll be grateful.
Joining the new team, a big thing that was important to me was making a good first impression. I hit really well my senior year of high school so I wanted to carry that momentum and approach into my freshman year of college.
With that goal in mind, I worked my butt off and did whatever I could to be in that starting lineup. Originally an infielder, I was converted to an outfielder two weeks before the season. This didn’t bother me at all, as it was an opportunity to play and I took advantage of it.
After a successful freshman year, I became comfortable playing at the college level. Things came easier, but I knew there was still a lot to work on personally and as a team. Just like anyone else, I matured and grew stronger as the year went by. I also started to gain more confidence in my abilities as a player, which led to becoming a better teammate and leader.
After making some improvements my sophomore year, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime. I was fortunate enough to play with the U.S. Collegiate National Team that traveled to Taiwan, Japan, and Cuba.
But I almost wasn’t able to compete.
I found out early in my sophomore season that I would be given an opportunity to play for the USA team that summer, but when I injured my elbow in April, there were questions whether I should be kept as a designated hitter due to a limited amount of roster spots.
After a period of doubt, I was grateful to still receive an opportunity to come out to the USA trials out in California and battle with other top players around the nation for a roster spot. I knew my only chance of making the team was if I was to hit, so I stayed focused and went to work.
I took pride in every at bat and opportunity I was given and made the most out of everything. Playing well during the trials, I was overwhelmed to make the team as a designated hitter.
Being able to represent and wear the letters of the USA across your chest gives you a sense of pride and confidence like no other. I still get goosebumps when I think about the other countries playing our national anthem in their respective country.
After a long summer, my favorite memory from the experience has to be the final game against Cuba. The series was tied 2-2 and game five decided whether or not the USA would receive their very first series win on Cuban soil. Everyone on the team knew the importance of that game and the chance to create history.
Although I didn’t start the game, I kept myself ready.
In the 8th inning, Coach Horton told me I was going in for a pinch-hit. The score was tied and I remember the at-bat vividly. The count was 2-2 and he left a change-up up in the zone that I knew I could hit.
My approach was to just put the ball in play, but I was able to get under the ball a little. The next thing I remember is watching the left fielder slowly drifting further back until there was no more room.
That was easily one of the best moments of my life and something I will never forget.
Back on campus, I feel that this season for UCI is different than before. We obviously have the same goals of winning the Big West, going to the playoffs, and going to Omaha. But this team wants it more than ever.
For me, I don’t feel that there’s any more pressure on myself than before. I know that If I stick to my same approach and mentality, then I’ll be able to perform to the best of my ability. Staying away from getting too high or too low, I stay true to the mentality that I’ve had my whole career.
I’m going to try to keep it simple.
Keston Hiura | Contributor