Baseball rules in San Benito County

Opening Night is shown.

Note: This is part of the annual Pride section with Friday’s edition of the Free Lance.
When Connor Fabing was around 11 years old, Darin Gillies, a former San Benito High standout now playing for Arizona State University, escorted Fabing out to the field during Hollister’s Opening Ceremonies at Veterans Memorial Park.
“I just remember wanting to be in his position some day, playing for the high school and having young kids look up to me,” Fabing said.
And now he is. Fabing, a senior first baseman and pitcher, has led out Little League players during the past three Opening Ceremonies.  Although football is huge in Hollister—one only has to see the home stands at the high school filled to capacity every Friday night in the fall as proof—baseball has a fervent following as well.
Combine that with the fact that more athletes from the San Benito baseball team go on to play at four-year schools than any other sport at the school, and it’s no wonder the baseball tradition in Hollister is second to none.
Every year at the Opening Ceremonies, parents beam with pride as they watch their kids get recognized for competing on a youth baseball team.
“People are very passionate about baseball in this town, and it starts with t-ball and extends all the way to Babe Ruth, the high school and beyond,” said Haybalers coach Billy Aviles, who usually speaks at the Opening Ceremonies.
Aviles mentioned former Balers standout Daniel Barone, who enjoyed a short stint in Major League Baseball with the Florida Marlins in 2007.
“Kids still look up to him this day,” Aviles said. “They want to do what he did. They can say hello to him and see him in town. It’s special because former Balers want to give back to the community, whether it’s putting on free clinics or doing Military Night or Challenger Night. I think it’s really important to give back.”
That’s not just paying lip service. Rey Martinez, the vice president of Hollister Little League, said the San Benito High players are tremendous role models for the younger kids. Hollister Little League holds a couple of fundraisers every year, and the high school players are usually involved with the first fundraiser of the season.
“The high school players have been a tremendous help,” Martinez said. “The Balers help out in every aspect of our fundraiser, and the kids love it and eat it up. It’s always a fantastic time.”
Giving back has become the essence of baseball in Hollister. Take Fabing: He grew up and played in Hollister Little League’s organization before developing into a solid high school player.
“When we walk out the kids to the field, sometimes they’ll say, ‘I want to be like you guys one day,’” Fabing said. “The look on their faces is just awesome.”
Said Avilies: The kids look up to the high school players with stars in their eyes. They want to be like them one day.”
And that’s exactly what happens. The majority of the freshmen, junior varsity and varsity players from San Benito High played in Hollister’s Little League growing up, a cycle that has continued over the last several decades.
The Opening Ceremonies is one of Hollister’s biggest sporting events of the year, and it’s capped by a huge fireworks show.
“The entire event creates a good feeling in town,” Aviles said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie and it reiterates how much of a baseball town Hollister is.”
Fabing’s dad, Robert, coached 12 years of youth baseball in Hollister, including the 2006 Hollister American 9-10 team that won the state championship. Even though Fabing no longer coaches in Hollister Little League, he still attends the Opening Ceremonies because of its significance.
“It’s a special event and something you want to attend,” he said. “I had fun and loved every minute of coaching Little League baseball. It’s even more fun and exciting to see all of the smiles on the kids’ faces.”
The proud baseball tradition in Hollister extends to the college level. Recent San Benito High standouts litter the college landscape. Darin Gillies (Arizona State), Josh George (Cal Poly) and Michael Breen (San Jose State) are just three of the dozen-plus former Baler standouts who are currently playing at the four-year level.
In addition, there are several other players who are excelling at the junior college level, and will no doubt earn scholarships to play at a university in the next couple of years.
“We’ve got former Balers playing everywhere in college,” Aviles said. “That’s a source of pride for everyone in town.”
Simply put, when one former player from Hollister succeeds, everyone in Hollister succeeds.

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