DOS PALOS — Beyond Dave Henderson Field is a cotton field that Dos Palos baseball coach Kevin Jones has spent plenty of time in searching for baseballs.
“I bet this season alone we’ve lost about a dozen baseballs in that field,” Jones said. “Some of the balls that end up in the middle of the field I don’t even worry about.”
The main reason baseballs end up in the cotton field is Efrain Del Rio.
The Broncos’ 6-foot-5, 280-pound slugger clubbed nine home runs this year – just one off the school’s single-season record held by Leonard Davis and Adam Calvert.
“His batting practices are something to watch,” Jones said. “There are days where I’m picking up seven or eight baseballs in the cotton field.”
Del Rio helped lead the Broncos to a co-West Sierra League title and earned co-MVP honors for his effort after hitting .418 with 40 RBIs in 27 games. He also went 10-4 with a 1.95 ERA.
“He’s one of those kids that comes around once every 20 years,” Jones said. “When the game is on the line he just gets better and better.”
Del Rio had plenty of highlights this season.
• In the championship game of the Fowler Easter Tournament, Del Rio set a tournament record with 16 strikeouts against Dinuba on April 15.
“It was my first time playing under the lights in high school and I took advantage of it,” Del Rio said. “It’s lot more exciting than playing in the day.”
• Del Rio hit three home runs and drove in five runs in a 12-2 win over Mendota on April 22.
• The junior right-hander struck out 15 in a 2-0 win over Firebaugh – the team that tied Dos Palos for the WSL title – on April 1.
• After being intentionally walked twice in the first-round playoff game against Corcoran, Del Rio hit a walk-off single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Broncos to an 8-7 win.
“He’s a good kid,” Jones said. “He doesn’t talk much. He works hard. It’s amazing some of the things he can do as a 17-year-old kid in high school. Some of the things he does, it’s just like, wow.”
Del Rio’s nine home runs and 40 RBIs rank eighth and 10th in the state, respectively according to MaxPreps.
What’s it feel like when Del Rio knows he hit a homer right away?
“I really can’t describe the feeling,” he said. “I never watch it. I just put my head down and run until it goes over the fence.”
Game days are the only time Jones doesn’t have to spend time in the cotton field.
“If he hits a home run the little kids will go get it for him and bring it back to him,” Jones said. “If you ask him he’ll probably tell you he has a couple. I’d say he has a pretty good collection.”
Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.