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Hart baseball's Baggio Saldivar: At the head of the pack

Prep baseball: Hart’s unrivaled captain on the diamond, Baggio Saldivar, has worked hard to earn the

Posted: March 25, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 25, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Hart catcher Baggio Saldivar knows hard work is key to a successful future. That effort has earned him the opportunity to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, an honor that will also require a five-year military commitment after he completes the four-year program.

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The way coaches throw around the label “leader” makes it lose its impact.

Every team has one.

Just like every company, maybe every family has one.

But there are your General George S. Pattons and your Derek Jeters and then there are others.

“It’s so cliche in today’s world,” says Hart head baseball coach Jim Ozella about the label. “We throw it around a lot. In his case, we’re throwing it around with purpose. In winter, in the fall, he’s in charge of our student fans, just every little aspect of the deal. He’s a great kid to talk to. I’ve had the pleasure of having him in class, and see what he’s doing. His work ethic he’s putting into it. His dedication to academics. He’s never in four years had a sixth period off to get extra hitting because he’s had such challenging classes.”

The he Ozella is referring to is Hart senior catcher Baggio Saldivar — who ironically will be going to the same college that General Patton went to and whose favorite baseball player is — of course — the Yankee Captain Derek Jeter.

It’s somewhat telling that in Ozella’s aforementioned comment he didn’t refer to Saldivar in the baseball sense.

It’s because in many ways a true leader is not just one who leads on the field, but off it as well.

Saldivar is the leader of Hart’s student section “The Tribe” during the fall and winter and to this day still runs part of the group’s social media.

He is a 4.20 GPA student who takes a heavy workload of advanced placement classes and rarely has free time.

“Not much. He has a full plate,” says his father, Mario. “He gets home from practice and we ask him if he’s tired.”

But Saldivar is tireless, and it’s something you see when you watch him play baseball.

The 2012 Foothill League and Signal All-Santa Clarita Valley first-teamer hits with power, hits for average, sacrifices at-bats to move runners in scoring position and plays with an intelligence beyond most who play one of the game’s most difficult positions.

He has an accurate arm, chases down foul balls and in a rarity for Ozella, calls most of the pitching staff’s pitches.

“For us, he’s our most valuable player,” Ozella says.

It takes a rare person, let alone kid, to be as committed as Saldivar.

Why is he this way?

One thing is he says he wants to make the most of his final year in high school and he realizes that academics and being active is his ticket to the next stage of his life.

But also because of his background.

“Probably how I’ve been raised,” Saldivar says. “My parents raised me right. They make sure I have my head on straight and treat others with respect. If I have the will to do something, I stay at it, stay committed, and get the job done.”

It’s not a surprise that Mario is in law enforcement and his mother Griselda is an elementary school teacher.

Mario acknowledges that his son doesn’t have to follow his advice. But Saldivar has.

Mario says he thinks it might have something to do with the what he saw as a youth growing up in East L.A. and the San Gabriel Valley and examples he has provided to his son about how others turned out.

“I had a lot of close friends who had good families, and they followed the wrong person and ended up six feet under or in prison,” Mario says. “The people who end up suffering are their families. I told him, ‘Don’t be a follower. You have a good head on your shoulders.”

So he leads.

Saldivar says an inspiration for his path on the baseball field comes from Valencia High pitcher Luke Soroko’s father, Mark.

Luke and Saldivar were teammates on a youth travel team and Mark, who played baseball at UCLA and the Texas Rangers organization, coached many kids in his family batting cage.

“He was the one who initially started working with me in catching,” Saldivar says. “(My dad) always reminds me now and then, remember when we were at his house. Remember when he talked to you about being a leader as a catcher. I think about that a lot. Mark Soroko, he might be one of most inspirational guys. He was out there giving us kids his time, his field, his house because he wanted to. He loved to help us with the game.”

Mark died in 2010 after suffering a heart attack while throwing batting practice to his sons.

“It makes me feel pretty proud,” Soroko says of Saldivar’s thoughts of Mark. “Me and Baggio go way back working with both our dads. For him to say that makes me proud. All my dad’s hard work paid off.”

Saldivar and Soroko have known each other since they were 8-year-olds.

“Even when he was 8 or 9, he had it,” Soroko says of Saldivar’s leadership qualities. “He’d come up to me when I was struggling and settle me down. That leadership will carry him to West Point. He has all those qualities.”

It was the United States Military Academy that approached Saldivar about coming to West Point.

Saldivar had never even thought about going into the military, but after a recruiting visit and understanding the challenges, including five years of military service after the four-year program, he was up for it.

“I saw a fit. I saw that all the work I’ve been putting in my whole life it’s finally opened the door,” Saldivar says. “This is one of the most prestigious establishments in the world. The name is recognizable globally.”

It’s such a fitting continuation for Saldivar.

But before he leaves, he will help guide a Hart Indians team full of challenges in 2013.

Before the season started, three vital members of the team were removed because of an off-field incident.

It affected the offense and pitching staff.

There are holes, but no excuses Saldivar says.

Not under his lead.

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