Rowan Player of the Year: West’s Hernan Bautista
By Mike London
West Rowan catcher Hernan Bautista was stunned when coach David Wright informed him he was the Mark Norris Memorial Award winner.
“I was speechless and shocked,” Bautista said. “This is awesome.”
Bautista, who caught every inning of West’s 51 games the last two baseball seasons, shouldn’t be astonished to be the Rowan County Player of the Year.
This is the 32nd year Eric Norris has supplied the award in memory of his younger brother, who was a captain and catcher for the Salisbury Hornets in 1975 and 1976. Every spring, Norris checks boxscores, reads game accounts and analyzes stats. One of his rituals is to make a silent prediction about the recipient of the award that bears his brother’s name. Sometimes Norris’ forecast matches the Post’s pick. Sometimes it doesn’t.
He had Bautista pegged. Norris’ reaction when it was time to get a handsome trophy engraved was, “Great. He was my guy.”
Excellent catchers who also crush the ball are tough to beat, but there were several quality candidates.
South junior Maverick Miles didn’t play for a strong team, but he batted .477.
East seniors Zach Smith (.378, eight homers, 33 RBIs) and David Ijames (.396, 14 doubles, 31 RBIs) put up major numbers for a 23-5 team. East senior Corbin Shive, had he been healthy from the start, probably would have put up staggering two-way stats.
But the Post’s choice is West’s ironman.
“I don’t get tired,” Bautista said. “And I just like being out there every game. Knock on wood, I’ve never gotten hurt.”
Bautista developed into a scary power source as a senior. He led West in all the Triple Crown categories with a .402 batting average, eight homers and 29 RBIs in 25 games.
“Hernan put it together offensively this season, and this honor is well-deserved,” Wright said. “He had a few lulls early from trying to do too much, but when we made our run he was lighting up good pitching and bad pitching ó it didn’t matter. Not to sell any of our guys short, but he was the one we could not afford to lose.”
Bautista’s parents and older brother, Hector, a former West catcher, were born in Mexico. Hernan was born after the family relocated to Salisbury.
Hernan (pronounced HER-non) didn’t take up catching until middle school, but his brother taught him all he knew. He progressed enough to earn varsity time for West as a sophomore. Then he got more pointers from Catawba’s All-America catcher Ryan Query.
His junior year, Bautista became a good offensive player ó two homers, 21 runs, .333. As a senior, he broke out in a big way.
“A lot of the power came from my offseason workouts,” Bautista explained. “(Assistant coach Matt) Stack coming to West helped. He hasn’t been out of college long and knows all the latest stuff.”
Bautista’s mental approach also sharpened. For the first time, he was able to let an unsuccessful at-bat go and move on.
“I started not killing myself after each at-bat like I did last year,” Bautista said. “If I struck out or grounded out, I still focused on my defense. Then when I batted again I cleared my head and made an adjustment. The other thing was I stopped chasing first pitches so much. I started waiting for my pitch, whether it was a curve or fastball. A lot of times, I got it.”
During a four-game West winning streak, Bautista got what he was looking for. He went 11-for-15 with 12 RBIs.
“Hernan was great for us,” West shortstop Philip Miclat said. “He was our most consistent hitter, and he dropped some bombs. I just wish we’d all performed like he did. We would’ve played a long time.”
West would have been no-hit by Fred T. Foard’s hard-throwing Robert McKinney in the playoffs except that Bautista pulled a bullet down the third-base line for a double.
Bautista had a game at Northwest Cabarrus in which he hit two very different homers. The first was a wicked liner that center fielder Jordan Phillips jumped for and nearly caught. The second was a majestic blast only an astronaut could have tracked.
“Well, there’s the fence, and 50 feet beyond the fence there’s a road,” Miclat said, shaking his head. “Then there’s a hill behind the road. Hernan hit it on the hill.”
Wright said it was the longest ball one of his players has hit since he’s been at West.
The instrument that did the damage for Bautista was an Easton model that belonged to West outfielder Jon Crucitti. Crucitti dubbed the blue and white bat “White Glory” and insisted it was a she, not a he. Whatever the bat’s gender, Bautista says six of his eight homers were launched by it.
Bautista’s slugging and catching skills attracted recruiters late in the season.
His dream school is UNC Wilmington. His academics turned in the right direction his last two years at West, but he’ll have to go to junior college before his Division I dreams become a reality. He has a number of visits lined up.
“I want to go as far as I can in baseball,” Bautista said. “I’m going to visit places and see where I’m comfortable with the school, the coach and the team.”
While college is in his future, Bautista’s present has taken an unusual twist.
His favorite place in the world to play ball is Newman Park. Rowan Legion standouts Crucitti and Miclat are his friends, but he lives closer (in miles, not minutes) to Davie High than Salisbury High. Legion rules dictate Bautista ó as well as West teammates and cousins Carlos and Jonie Bautista ó must play for Mocksville’s Legion team.
“It’s so weird because I’d like to be at Newman Park,” Bautista said. “But I put that Mocksville uniform on and play as hard as I can. I try to get better every day.”
Bautista goes into Legion games well-armed. He purchased “White Glory” from Crucitti last weekend.
“I hesitated to ask Jon, but he’s been using another bat this summer,” Bautista said. “He was glad to sell it to me.”
The bat isn’t out of magic. Last Sunday night, Mocksville played at Winston-Salem. Bautista pounded a homer at Reynolds Park that made his mammoth shot at Northwest look like a bunt single.
“It went over a creek out behind left field,” Bautista said with a laugh. “Way more distance than the one at Northwest.”
Wright didn’t get to see it, but nothing Bautista does at the plate shocks him.
“I think Hernan can hit at about any level,” Wright said. “When he hits, people stop what they’re doing to watch.”