For a long time, the baseball tee and net in Jeremy Jess’ backyard sat mostly dormant.
After a particularly bad game at the plate against Paso Robles early on during PAC 8 play, however, the San Luis Obispo High School senior slugger loaded up a 5-gallon bucket with baseballs and paid a visit to the forgotten makeshift practice spot.
He hit a couple of hundred balls off the tee that night in March.
“The next game, I was hitting better,” Jess said of his 2-for-4, RBI rebound game. “So, I was like, ‘Oh, maybe this works.’ ”
It became habit after that.
“I felt like I needed to do it or else I wasn’t going to perform,” Jess said.
Jess would come home after team practices and spend 45 minutes hitting until his arms got tired. The work paid off in a big way.
By season’s end, Jess finished as the PAC 8 leader in home runs (5), slugging percentage (.725), tied for first in RBI (31) and was fifth in the league with a .412 batting average. And that doesn’t even factor in what he did as a pitcher.
For his accomplishments as the best two-way player on the PAC 8 champion Tigers, Jess has been named The Tribune’s 2016 Baseball County Player of the Year.
Strong Silent Type
The first thing that stands out about the stocky senior are his massive, Popeye-like forearms — a product of baseball and his two favorite hobbies, weightlifting and kayaking. At the plate, Jess used them to crush line drives and home runs all over the upper field at San Luis Coastal Adult School that the team calls home. Jess showed power to every field, hitting home runs over the left-, center- and right-field fences during the season.
On the mound, his forearms helped him with a fastball that topped out in the mid-80s and a devastating slider. As the anchor and Friday night starter on the best pitching staff in the PAC 8, he finished the season with a 1.26 ERA and 61 strikeouts, beating out last year’s strikeout total by 54.
But you probably won’t hear him brag about it.
“I don’t talk very much,” Jess said.
There were plenty of outgoing personalities on the Tigers this year — profiled by The Tribune last month — but Jess wasn’t one of them.
“It’s just the type of guy I am,” Jess said. “I am not going to be vocal and get everyone riled up like Ben (LeMiere) did for us this year. I just tried to get in and do my work. I try to set the tone through my actions.”
Most of the best memories from this season came off the field for Jess. For example, he pointed to when the team would walk from school to invade the nearby Taqueria Santa Cruz at lunch for “Tuesday Cruz Day.”
“We all park together and pretty much do everything together. Everyone else in the school thinks we are kind of weird,” Jess said, adding that the chemistry and the camaraderie of the team really made the season special.
On the field, the Tigers’ CIF-Southern Section Division 3 first-round playoff game against Segerstrom stood out.
The start wasn’t great for Jess. His error early in the game led to a Segerstorm run. The game remained tight the rest of the way until Brooks Lee’s single in the seventh inning gave the Tigers a 3-2 win.
“It was awesome,” Jess said. “It was such a great feeling to go rush the field, inning in CIF because we hadn’t won a game in CIF in five or six years. To get to the second round was a big accomplishment.”
In the second round, the Tigers were on the other side of a close game, a 2-1 loss to Culver City. But Jess remembers positive vibes after the game.
“Honestly, it was more good than bad,” Jess said. “It was a close game, we had some breaks not go our way, and we didn’t capitalize off of runners in scoring position. But it was a great season, and that’s how everyone looked at it. No one really hung their heads.”
Jess graduated on Friday with a 4.2 GPA and will soon head south to join the baseball team at Pomona-Pitzer College, a Division III school in Claremont.
The net and tee will stay in the backyard.
“They have better equipment down there,” he said jokingly.
But the memories of playing with his wild teammates will stay with him, along with the accomplishments of a 25-7 record and PAC 8 Player of the Year honors.
“Most of us have been playing together since we were 8 or 9 years old, and to finally be on a team all together, it was really fun,” he said. “I’m definitely going to miss playing together with everyone.”
Jess, who is not sure yet what he wants to study, said he is looking forward to going to a good school where he can get an education and continue to play the game he loves.
“In the end,” Jess said, “I did exactly what I set out to do. So I am really happy about that.”