Alta catcher Chipper Lucero tells the story with a smile, just outside the gates of an empty baseball field whose brownish grass hasn’t quite shaken its winter hibernation. Standing here, he thinks back to childhood, when warm summer evenings were spent watching baseball on his father’s lap.
There had been one player who stuck out among all the others he watched on TV.
Lucero’s hot start
Games » 5
Hits » 11
Batting average » .611
On-base percentage » .667
"I loved Chipper Jones," said Lucero, who eventually adopted his idol’s nickname. Now, as Lucero’s senior year on the diamond is beginning, parallels to Jones’ style of play have become apparent in his game.
There is a hard-nosed edge to Lucero, a quiet confidence that exudes through his play. He learned it from watching Jones, a shoo-in Hall of Famer who retired after the 2012 season following 18 seasons with the Atlanta Braves.
"I can tell [Jones] doesn’t let stuff get to him," Lucero said. "He just plays hard no matter what. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks — he knows he’s good. But he’s humble about it, too, and that’s a good aspect to have."
Lucero’s demeanor and his skill have led to production. After hitting .440 with four homers as a junior last year, he is hitting .611 through five games this season.
But more than his statistical contributions, Lucero’s leadership has buoyed the Hawks, who finished second in Region 3 last year and have started 4-1 this season. Alta coach Barry Harrington said Lucero’s mental toughness is contagious.
"He’s not one of those players where, ‘Please dear God don’t put me in that situation,’" Harrington said. "He’s the type of kid who hopes he’s coming up in that situation. He’s ready to roll if the bases are loaded, two outs, count full and the game on the line.
"He’s one of those kids that all he wants to do is play ball, doesn’t want to get caught up in everything else."
Lucero also quarterbacked the Hawks’ football team — he passed for 32 touchdowns and completed more than 60 percent of his throws last season — but baseball is his true passion.
And though the time commitment of playing football has limited his summer exposure on the diamond, and the amount of looks college coaches have gotten of him, Lucero hopes he’ll play at the next level.
That’s a goal that Harrington said is well within range for Lucero.
"He’s got all the stuff to play at the next level," Harrington said. "It’s just a matter of a coach saying, ‘Yeah, he’s the kid who’s going to fit into our team.’ Some coaches at the next level are looking for the bigger kid or the kid who throws 90 or whatever. But Chip is just a scrappy kid. That makes up for whatever he doesn’t have."
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