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Stress is a foreign notion to Marina's Jake Bauers

Power-hitting senior first baseman is a cool customer on the field, even during playoff games.

May 20, 2013|Eric Sondheimer

It's 15 minutes before the start of a pressure-packed Southern Section Division 1 baseball first-round playoff game. Some players are feeling a little nauseated as the reality of what's at stake begins to sink in.

Not Jake Bauers of Huntington Beach Marina. He's smiling at the crowd and tipping his cap, and is seemingly oblivious to how important the game is.

He steps to the plate in the first inning against Norco, and on the second pitch, he blasts a fastball so far over the right-field fence at Marina that it might land on the 405 Freeway a couple of miles away.

"I knew someone had to set the tone," he said.

During a season in which the pitchers have been in complete command thanks to the second year of new bat requirements, the left-handed-hitting Bauers is the rarest of high school hitters, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound first baseman who hasn't been affected by new BBCOR regulations.

After being selected rookie of the year as a junior in the Sunset League, Bauers has put together a most-valuable-player senior season. He's batting .575 with 42 hits and seven home runs entering Tuesday's second-round playoff game against Thousand Oaks.

Because pitchers had mostly given up trying to throw fastballs past him, he was moved to the leadoff spot several weeks ago to at least start the game with a chance to see some decent pitches.

"The guy can hit to all fields," Coach Robert Marshall said. "He's had a phenomenal year."

So much has changed in a year's time for Bauers, who didn't make varsity until his junior season. In an era when lots of kids expect to make varsity as freshmen, he had the patience to stick it out on junior varsity and improve his game, and when he got the chance, he delivered.

"Sometimes when you rush those guys up too quick, they don't develop as much," Marshall said.

And sometimes parents decide to transfer their kids for more playing time.

But Bauers and his parents welcomed the chance to use playing on the junior varsity to become a better player.

"I learned to respect the game more," he said. "I've learned to take [the pitch] to the opposite field and drill the ball into left. That was one of my big things, and I'm pretty proud of that."

If his power isn't impressive enough, so is his patience at the plate, something that wasn't a strength early on. He knows pitchers will be careful with him.

"They're scared to pitch to him," Marshall said.

After his home run Friday, he was intentionally walked in his next at-bat, grounded out in his third at-bat and drew a leadoff walk in the seventh inning on his way to scoring the winning run in a 2-1 victory.

"I love watching him play," Marshall said. "I love watching him swing the bat."

In the bleachers, Bauers' girlfriend, Lauren Carr, had his No. 11 painted on her cheek. He has a scholarship to Hawaii awaiting him, but he's expected to be chosen in next month's amateur draft.

"The best of both worlds," he said.

As the pressure grows during the playoffs, don't expect Bauers to change his loosey-goosey demeanor.

"I love it," he said. "It's always been my approach that every game is like every other game."

If someone deserves credit for bringing out the best in Bauers, start with his parents, Stuart and Misty.

"I love them," he said. "They've been there through everything for me. It's never been talking about a bad game. It's always positive."

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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