Gabe Juarez, who is 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, has hit four home runs while playing in his first season of college baseball as a 16-year-old for Reseda Cleveland.
“This guy has probably the most power I’ve seen in all my coaching days,” Cleveland coach Sid Lopez said.
During batting practice, he’s been hitting so many baseballs in a construction area in left field that it looks like Lopez is on an Easter egg hunt looking for them.
“We can’t find the baseballs,” he said. “It will probably make Cleveland money in the long run, because if it does, I hope it will donate baseballs we lost for.”
A construction worker in a protective hat dropped onto the baseball field Monday and said, “I almost got hit by one of his balls.”
Juarez was the starting quarterback for the football team in his sophomore year, but since the Cavaliers handled double end, his main job was to deliver the ball to running backs. He decided not to play soccer this spring while keeping his commitment to baseball.
“It wasn’t fair to the football team or the baseball team if I didn’t put my best effort into either one,” he said.
He gained 20 pounds in one year and changed from third base to catcher, a position he hadn’t played in since Little League. He has a new appreciation for the cost that body hunters must bear.
“Oh my God,” he said. Now I see how difficult it is.
He has hit hurdles in Cleveland, Lake Balboa Birmingham and Woodland Hills Taft this season for the Cavaliers (13-3), who are seeded No. 2 in the City Section Open Division playoffs. They play Chatsworth at home on Friday.
“I try to hit the ball as hard as I can on a line,” he said. “If I get it, I get it.”
Lopez said he increased the height of the fences in Cleveland after his arrival in 2016 from six feet to 10 feet, and since then only five home runs have been hit. Juárez has two.
Juárez is motivated to succeed in every game because his mother, María, watches from a wheelchair encouraging him. She has been dealing with cancer since he was in sixth grade. She continues to fight, which serves as a reminder for Juárez on how to face life.
“She is a police officer,” Juárez said. “Luckily we have a great support system. It has been tough, but we have a lot of people on my side. If I can be successful while she’s around, I’ll be a happy boy.
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Cleveland was one of the most unlucky teams last season when COVID-19 ended the baseball season in March. Lopez had perhaps the most experienced team in the City Section with 17 seniors ready to bid to win a title.
This season, he’s had to transform 11 former junior varsity players into college-caliber contributors. They have been improving each week by relying on the senior leadership of Braden Lowe, Andrew Howe and Kai Moran.
Juarez continues to play a huge role in hitting as a cleanup hitter.
Junior team coach Larry Baca recalls that Juarez apologized every time he missed a hit.
“Hello coach, I promise that next time I will get a hit,” he would say to Baca.
Never doubt what Juárez is capable of.