Coming off the program’s 10th Central Coast Section Division I championship, the San Benito High softball team enters the upcoming season with title aspirations once again. The Haybalers received a huge addition in the off-season in sophomore catcher Amber Rodriguez, who has verbally committed to play for Weber State University.
Rodriguez attended North Monterey County High as a freshman but didn’t play for the Castroville school. Had Rodriguez played last season, she most likely would’ve had to sit out a sizable number of games due to transfer rules. But she’ll be at the first day of practice on Monday with the rest of her teammates.
“I’m looking forward to the season,” she said. “Last year I decided to play only with my travel ball team, the California Suncats. It’s going to be fun playing with such a good high school team.”
Rodriguez’s presence should offset some of the sting from losing Callee Heen and Suzy Brookshire to graduation. Heen and Brookshire earned scholarships to play at the University of Hawaii and Sacramento State, respectively, and often changed the outcome of a game with one swing of the bat. Rodriguez has the potential to do the same.
“She’s the real deal,” said Andrew Barragan, who led the Balers to the championship last season in his first year as the San Benito coach. “She’s very patient at the plate. Gap to gap hitter. But one of the better defensive catchers I’ve seen at her age.”
And that’s what Weber State saw in Rodriguez, whose pop-up time—the time it takes from the catcher receiving the ball from the pitcher to the middle infielder receiving the ball at second base—has been clocked at 1.6 seconds. Most Division I catchers are in the low to mid 1-second range, so Rodriguez is already right there when it comes to being armed with a trait catchers must possess to succeed at the Division I level.
Rodriguez’s confidence comes out in both her words and actions on the field.
“I know how to control my pitchers if they’re struggling, and my receiving (skills) are great,” she said. “I like to help my pitchers out by blocking and receiving well. I have a strong arm and will do anything to help the team win.”
Weber State is a strong Division I program in Ogden, Utah. It finished 37-19 last season in winning the Big Sky Conference title and a NCAA tournament berth. Rodriguez initially committed to Portland State last spring only to de-commit after the coach who recruited her got fired. Rodriguez’s Christian faith gives her purpose and meaning, especially on the field.
“Faith means a lot to me,” she said. “One of the Suncats’ belief is we wear practice shirts and it has a little verse saying, ‘Faith without works is dead.’ And what I believe that means is that you need to join as one unit in order to compete at the same level as one another.”
Rodriguez draws inspiration from her grandfather, Ron Speelman, who died in 2004.
“I know my grandpa is watching down on me from heaven,” she said. “I will always have him close to my heart in every single game I play.”