By Tiff Wells.
Once again, we pull back the curtain and give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the life of a University of Hawaii student-athlete. This time around, we head to the baseball diamond and go one on one with redshirt junior first baseman Alex Baeza. Batter up!
Q: You graduated from Jordan High School in Sandy, Utah all the way back in 2016. What led you to choosing to play for Hawaii?
BAEZA: When I came on my visit, I instantly fell in love with the stadium and seeing how packed The Les can get. I knew I wanted to come and play in front of these fans!
Q: How does playing a series on the road at Vanderbilt, one of the best teams in country, and compete at a very high level against them, help you and the team move forward?
BAEZA: It gives our program validation. We know how good we can be, and being able to go into a top-ranked team’s home and play that well proves that we are a very talented, exciting and well-coached team. We were put on the main stage to showcase our skills with the best of the best, and we were tested. We did not back down and I think that plays a big role on how our guys will carry themselves in the future. We do not back down from any team and we compete our butts off day in and day out.
Q: Off to one of the best starts in program history (11-6). Coming off that series win against Oregon and then later in the week finding out not only the Chicago State series was cancelled, but the rest of the 2020 season campaign wouldn’t happen, how did you process that?
BAEZA: It was a shock, to say the least. We had just put together a great weekend against Oregon, we were feeling great, and then it was just over. At first it was tough to stay positive, and I would drive myself crazy with boredom, but after about a week or two I had to find a way to stay sane without baseball. I tried to start doing whatever I could to stay in shape during a lockdown, whether it be hitting off of a tee in my basement or going on runs.
Q: We all know baseball players have their superstitions. What are a couple of yours? We see first baseman chat with opposing players when they are holding them on the bag. Are you talkative to the runner and, if so, who are a few of the more interesting opposing players you’ve made small talk with when at first base?
BAEZA: I am very superstitious about my numbers. I don’t like to look at my batting average throughout the year, which can be tough since our average is posted on our scoreboard during at bats. I avoid looking at it throughout the year and try to focus on just having good at bats and the numbers will follow.
I am very talkative towards the runner and I love to talk with the first base coaches and umpires throughout the game. The three funniest guys I have talked with during games are Nate Webb from UC Riverside, Logan Denholm from UC Davis and Conner Pohl from Ohio State. I still keep in touch with them and many other guys.
Q: You made a big jump from the 2018 to the 2019 season. Hit .278 with 50 hits, 4 home runs and drove in 27 runs and received Honorable Mention accolades by the Big West Conference. How did you keep at it and stay focused after only starting 13 games during the 2018 season?
BAEZA: I always want to be ready when my number is called. Whether it be defensively or at the plate. In 2018 I wasn’t getting everyday playing time but I would stay focussed and locked in by choosing one player in our lineup that I would take an at-bat from the dugout with them. For example, if I picked Adam Fogel for the day whenever he was at the plate I was in the dugout in my stance working on my rhythm and timing. I would try to put myself in those tight situations and think about what a pitcher might be throwing me in certain counts with runners on. I tried to do little things like that to keep me mentally focused so when the time came in 2019 when I finally got to start consistently there wasn’t a learning curve. I could just hit the ground running.
Q: What’s your favorite part about playing for Hawaii? You’re from Van Nuys, California. When you’re on the road and you see mom (Martha) and dad (Jose) in the stands, what goes through your mind?
BAEZA: Playing in front of a packed house at The Les. Our stadium is one of the craziest environments to play in and it is hands down my favorite part about playing here. When I see my parents in the stands all I can think about is that I’m living in the days we used to dream about. All of the sacrifices they made for me throughout the years with money, travel and time paid off, and I get to make them proud when they’re up there cheering me on.
Q: Describe the feeling on a Friday night at Les Murakami Stadium when you see the kids come to the field for autographs after the game.
BAEZA: It is the most humbling experience. These kids are coming to games and cheering us on and they look up to us. We are in a position to be great role models for them,and when you see them run up with the biggest smiles on their faces it’s an amazing feeling.
Q: All UH teams log a ton of airline miles every season. What are the must have items in your carry-on bag when you board the plane? When on the road, do you have a go-to spot for a meal with the boys?
BAEZA: In my carry on, I have to have some headphones for the flight and some mid-flight snacks. My go-to snack is sour patch watermelons. My go-to spot on the road is always In-N-Out. As soon as we get to the airport I always check to see how far we are from the nearest one.
Q: How do you stay physically fit and mentally strong during a global pandemic?
BAEZA: We’ve done our best to stay in shape with whatever we can find. In my apartment I have some dumbbells that I try to mix different workouts with. I combo that with some resistance bands and running. I work on the mental side by watching a lot of professional baseball. I like to think about game situations, pitch calling, play calls, etc. I will even stand in front of my TV and time my swing up to the pitcher and get some mental reps that way.
Q: In your family, who is the best cook? And when you go home, what are a couple of the dishes you request the parentals to make?
BAEZA: My mom is definitely the best cook in the house. When I’m home I always request a Chile Verde plate. There’s nothing better than my mom’s home cooking.
Q: Take us through how you study the opposing pitching rotation, from starters to those coming out of the bullpen.
BAEZA: I like to watch film on the pitchers for the upcoming week. I like to know how a starter is going to attack us first time through the lineup compared to later in the game. For relievers, I like to know what their out pitch is. When do they like to throw it? Do they like their offspeed pitches more with runners on? Do they pitch backwards when behind in the count? These are all questions I try to find answers to before Friday night.
Q: Finally, take us through a typical gameday…both here at home and on the road.
BAEZA: For a home game at 6:00 p.m., I like to get up around 9 and get a good breakfast in. I try to get to the field around 11:30 to roll out and stretch. At noon I will get a light workout in with a lot of mobility movements to warm up my body for about an hour and a half. Around 2 I will get out to the cage for my early work and hitting routine before batting practice. After that I’ll come in the locker room, shower, get in my uniform, and feel ready to go for the game.
Road games are a little different. I wake up around 8, eat breakfast and get to the hotel weight room for the same mobility workout. After that I’ll go see Wade and get any treatment I need and pickup my uniform. I’ll get some lunch around noon and start getting mentally prepared for the game. At 1, I’ll start playing some music in the hotel room and get dressed. The bus leaves for the field around 3:45 and then it’s game time!
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