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COC's Jake Jelmini: Calm before a storm

Jelmini’s relaxed approach has led to his emergence as a college hitter

Posted: March 13, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 13, 2012 1:55 a.m.

College of the Canyons sophomore Jake Jelmini learned to be more relaxed at the plate during this past offseason, and it’s paid off this spring. He’s become the Cougars’ most potent hitter this season, batting .481 with 15 RBIs, three home runs and 26 hits through 14 games.

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Last October, Jake Jelmini had an epiphany.

He was watching the World Series on TV.

Something caught the eye of the College of the Canyons first baseman.

When Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton stepped into the batter’s box, Jelmini noticed his approach at the plate.

He watched as Hamilton rested the bat on his left shoulder while he waited for the pitch.

“I thought to myself, ‘How easy?’” Jelmini says. “How simple you can make hitting be.”

The sophomore admitted he’s always had a problem calming his nerves before games.

Finding a simple routine to help himself relax was key.

The next day, he decided to apply the method at the Fall All-Star Showcase at Mt. San Antonio College.

He knew the pressure would be elevated with more than 200 college scouts, coaches and spectators attending.

Jelmini hit a home run in the game, and his performance was good enough to catch the attention of the University of Oregon coaches, who called him the following day.

By November, Jelmini signed with Oregon, where he’ll be playing next season.

This year at COC, Jelmini has carried over his strong offseason and gotten off to a blazing start in the first month of the season.

He’s batting .481, and he leads the team in three different categories with 15 RBIs, three home runs and 26 hits.

That’s just one RBI and one home run short of last year, when he hit .268.

“I think when you look at his swing compared to last year, he’s made an effort to be more aggressive,” says COC head coach Chris Cota. “Especially on balls inside, and it’s just realizing that he’s been a pretty good player all along.”

Jelmini credits the small changes for his sudden outbreak — changes like the Hamilton approach.

It was the latest tweak Jelmini’s made in the past few years of his career, which has been filled with sudden and sometimes unexpected changes.

The biggest one came during his senior year at Mira Costa High School.

It was late May 2010, just before the start of the CIF-Southern Section Division II playoffs.

Jelmini and a couple of players were messing around during batting practice and his teammate accidently smashed the side of his head with a full-forced swing of a bat.

The force of the blow knocked him to the ground.

“My first thought was, ‘Oh my God, I’m blind,’” Jelmini says. “That was what I thought. But then I tilted my head and realized I was face down in the dirt. I can laugh about it now.”

At the time, it was anything but a laughing matter.

He ended up with a broken bones in his jaw and chin, which required surgery to repair.

For six weeks, Jelmini’s jaw was wired shut.

The third-year varsity starter had to watch from the dugout while Mira Costa advanced to the semifinals.

“At that point, it’s crushing because here’s the culmination of all your work growing up all the way leading up to CIF playoffs,” says Mike Neily, former Mira Costa head coach, “and here you get injured right before the start of playoffs.”

After his jaw healed, Jelmini had to spend months regaining the strength lost from weeks of inactivity.

He spent the better part of the summer training to rehab from the setback.

“It helped me put a new spin on life as far as, I don’t know, it allowed me to not take everything for granted,” Jelmini says. “For lack of a better term, you don’t know when your time is up.”

Through his connections with various baseball coaches, Jelmini was given the opportunity to play ball at University of California, Santa Barbara.

After visiting the campus and meeting the coach staff at COC, though, he decided community college was the route to take.

During his time at Canyons, he’s accumulated a 4.0 GPA as a kinesiology major and he plans to continue a similar area of study at Oregon.

His successes are starting to resonate around the team at COC.

“He seems like he’s developing into a quiet team leader,” says Neily, who sometimes makes the trip to watch his former player.

It’s the same trip Jelmini made two years ago, and it’s paid off.

“I feel like my opportunity came, I came to College of the Canyons, I met coach Cota and I met a lot of good people in this community,” Jelmini says.

And if he keeps up the pace, Jelmini has a chance to hear his name called in June’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Cota said his offensive surge this season should put him in prime position as a draft pick.

“He was a really good player in high school, and I think he was a four-year (college player) from the beginning,” Cota says. “We were lucky to get him.”

For Jelmini, the feeling is mutual.

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