All About Baseball
De Jota Cruz Is A College Baseball Star With An Inspirational Journey
Some of the cool things we do here at Legends on Deck is highlighting up and coming baseball stars, and recently I got a chance to meet Dave Cruz, a Junior at Crown College in Minnesota, and he allowed me to share his journey so far in the game.
Cruz hails from Staten Island, NY where he honed his baseball skills at McKee High School, which also helped him avoid the mean streets of the city and propelled him onto the college baseball stage. “I used to hit in the back of the project building where I grew up, until the lights went out and then head inside before the streets became active,” said Cruz as he took me down memory lane through his childhood days.
My biggest influences in my life have been my parents. They’ve shared with me to use poverty and my environment to motivate me to overcome the negative things that surrounded us. ~ Cruz
The love for the game started at a young age as his father did the simplest thing by just taking his boys to a baseball game. “My father introduced me to the game around four years old. He used to get tickets from a carpet company he worked for and took my brother and I to Yankee Stadium. From that moment on, I grew to love baseball,” Cruz told me with pride.
But the New York native didn’t play the game for nearly ten years as football took precedence. “I started playing baseball when I was 14-years old. I started late because my parents couldn’t afford for me to play both baseball and football. So in middle school, I decided to play football since it was more popular at that time then baseball.”
Baseball became an important part of his life when he entered high school and after his senior year at McKee, Cruz was initially committed to attend Alabama State, but he decided that Crown College in Minnesota was a better fit, “I chose Crown College over Alabama State because one, it’s a christian college and I wanted to grow more in my walk with the Lord and also Coach Mike Gmetro showed his true interest in me as a person first and promised me that on his team I would be more than just a number.”
Baseball has also been a big part of Cruz’s family for many years as his great grandfather, Radames Lopez, starred at shortstop and third base for Brujos de Guayama and Criollos de Caguas in the Puerto Rican Baseball League from the mid 1920’s until the early 1950’s.
“My great grandfather was on the 1939-40 Brujos De Guayama championship team and he also earned the nickname El Pequeno Gigante (The Little Giant) because he hit a home run off Satchel Paige. He had the opportunity to play for the New York Cubans but decided to turn the offer down because of the discrimination and racism.”
Cruz continued, “My great grandfather has become a tremendous influence in my baseball career. Even though I never met him, as he died three years before I was born, I feel his presence and spirit with me whenever I am on the field, especially through my ups and downs, not just in baseball but in life as well. I tell myself that even though he never had the opportunity to play in the majors, I have the chance to finish what he started. I’m not only doing this for me, but I’m doing this for him and my family.”
Earlier this year, Cruz entered his third season at Crown College, and even though he came to the college as an outfielder, each year he has grown at the plate and even on the mound. In 2015, he was on the wrong end of a 21-1 loss to Lawrence University as he tossed 1.1 innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on three hits. But this season, he took a huge step in his development on the mound, as he started the teams second game and threw six shutout innings, allowing just two hits and earned his first victory on the young season. For his efforts he was named the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week.
The 6’2″ right hander has also been a standout player in the outfield and in 2015 he was an Honorbale Mention in the UMAC All Conference as he batted .327/.465/.364, with six doubles, two home runs, and 14 RBI’s in 32 games.
So far the team is 2-0 in 2016, as they opened the season with a double header sweep over Martin Luther, 4-3 and 10-0.
Cruz says that his off-season workout regimen has truly helped his game, especially with his involvement in the newly formed Gold Coast Collegiate League, which started last spring in South Eastern, Florida, “I’ve learned so much from my time in the Gold Coast Collegiate League, especially the true essence of hard work and exactly what it takes to play professional baseball. I enjoyed how they cared about my development as a ball player and encouraged me to work harder each and every day.”
Looking back on his journey, Cruz knows that he has a long road ahead of him, but he is willing to do what it takes to succeed, “My long term goals with baseball is to have the opportunity to play at the next level. This is something that I’ve have worked for ever since I was 14. I feel like I have a great opportunity to turn that dream into a reality.”
Cruz chose to change his name to De Jota Cruz, which is how his name sounds in Spanish. Those that know him well call him D.J, so in Spanish the letters sound like D (De) and J (Jota). A unique name for a player soon to take the next level by Storm.
Featured Photo: Crown College Athletics
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