For the past decade, Turlock and Pitman High have been in the thick of the hunt for the Central California Conference baseball championship, testing each other and the rest of their opposition each season in what is often a neck and neck race for the league title.
The rivals boast rosters filled with the top baseball talent the city of Turlock has to offer, talent that grew up and sharpened their skills together through the little league ranks.
But once high school is over these players, many of whom have spent the better part of their lives competing with or against each other, scatter. Some continue to play, joining collegiate teams across the country, while others put down the bat and pursue different passions.
The world isn’t black and white, however. There are many players who sit in the grey zone of these two extremes. Not able to play at the collegiate level but still burning with a desire to play baseball, these individuals are often forced to play in recreation leagues or pickup games.
Jaime Trujillo knows the feeling. A 1983 Bulldog Alumnus, Trujillo joined the Central Valley Mexican-American Baseball League upon graduation where he spent 35 years in the league as a player. Now, Trujillo has decided to make the switch to team manager for a brand new team meant to unify the talent of the area— The Turlock Pitbulls.
“There are a lot of young kids who can’t play college because of their grades or because they can’t go, so I decided to make this team up,” Trujillo said.
Currently 2-2 in scrimmages, the Pitbulls are gearing up for the official start to their first season in the Mexican-American Baseball League this Sunday against the Los Banos Angels. But while 2014 will be the Pitbulls’ first full season as a team, they are far from pure rookies as they won last year’s Summer Tournament championship.
“We were ranked last in the tournament and we ended up winning it. That was a good start for the kids, they were all happy,” Trujillo said. “So we got a free ride for insurance and registration for this year.”
With a roster comprised of 15-20 year olds, the Pitbulls enter the season as the youngest team in their league. They also enter with a high degree of local-school representation.
There are three current Pitman players and one current Turlock player on the squad as well as current players from Denair High, Atwater High, and Buhach Colony High. There are also three former Pitman players and one former Turlock player on the roster.
“All the players I’m going to coach this year, I’ve coached with them or against them since they were young,” Trujillo said. “I’m just excited that I’m going to have the opportunity to coach these kids because they’re really nice kids.”
Trujillo, who has coached at the little league level for 15 years, has been getting some managing tips from his former high school coach Mark de la Motte.
“He just told me to play to win but to play to have fun with the kids, too,” Trujillo said. “I just want them to keep playing…I want them to just have fun and let them do what they like to do, they like to play ball.”
Sunday’s game against Los Banos will be played on Pitman’s JV baseball field and is slated to begin at 10 a.m.