As senior outfielder Luke Yoder said, baseball is a mental game, where successful players must never let the losses get the best of them. There are few elements a player can control to make it in the game.
“Baseball is the only sport that when you’re on offense, you don’t have control of the ball. You can only control your swing and the pitches you swing at. But you can’t control how it hits the bat,” Yoder said.
Success on the diamond is all about learning how to fail and move on. Yoder credits Bakersfield Baseball Academy Director Bobby Maitia for teaching him this mindset and helping him develop defensive and offensive strategies. Yoder said he hopes to carry these lessons with him into the minor leagues after college.
“Baseball is such a failing game and we worked on trying to handle the grind of the game. Luke fails seven out of 10 times, but if you fail seven out of 10 times you are a hall of famer,” Maitia said.
Last year Yoder did just that, recording a .301 average with 11 doubles and nine home runs. The year before, he missed seven of 46 games due to a broken toe, but averaged .350 as a lead-off hitter. In the past he has been scouted by professional clubhouses like the Dodgers and Red Sox, but declined their offers to attend Cal Poly to pursue a degree in business administration.
Maitia said Yoder possesses a combination of strength and power that he has never seen before. Maitia said he and Yoder’s parents thought his capabilities stemmed from the flexibility he acquired in gymnastics. When Yoder was about 12-year-old, several parents were taken aback by his talent and signed their kids up for gymnastics hoping that their children would become better baseball players.
However, when Yoder was 15-years-old, he suffered a shoulder injury in gymnastics, and the parents quickly removed their children.
Yoder said he would never have expected himself to go so far in a game that he didn’t take seriously. He said gymnastics has always been his favorite sport since he was 3-years-old, but after suffering from Osgood-Schlatters in his knee and tearing the lumbar muscle in his shoulder, he realized he would have to give up the sport.
“I love (gymnastics), I honestly think it is the best sport ever because it’s really just you competing against the event. You control your own destiny by however well you prepared and you hold the keys to your own success,” Yoder said.
He said that after his shoulder injury, he began channeling the same energy and focus into baseball. He soon started visiting the baseball academy located next door to the gymnastics center and just down the street from his home in Bakersfield.
While working with Maitia during his senior year in high school, Yoder hit .488 and stole 16 of 20 bases. That summer, he was scouted by the Red Socks and Dodgers, and got a taste for what life could be like if he went pro.
Yoder attended a pre-draft workout at Fenway park in Boston. He said practicing on the field was one of the best feelings he has ever had.
“The little kids would come up and be like: ‘Hey, can I have your autograph?’ They would ask, ‘Are you going to be as good as Babe Ruth?’” Maitia said. “It was a great experience to feel like a big-leaguer without actually being one.”
Despite the attention, Yoder turned down both teams to attend Cal Poly to pursue a degree in business administration.
“Out of high school it wasn’t worth giving up going to college and getting an education,” Yoder said.
Maitia developed a relationship with Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee after he coached the San Luis Obispo Blues from 1996 to 1997 and the Santa Maria Indians from 1998 to 2000. He recommended Yoder play for Lee if he wanted to make it big after college.
Yoder said his first reaction to the team was awe.
“You are in a Division-I team and there had been guys who had been recruited here, like Casey Fien and Bud Norris,” Yoder said.
Lee said that since Yoder has joined the team, Yoder has been an integral part to its success.
“He has a good combination of strength, speed and power,” Lee said.
Pitcher Steven Fischback, who won’t see any playing time this season due to an extended recovery from labrum’s surgery, said Yoder feels no pain and has no fears. He said as a leader, Yoder never seems upset or disappointed, even during some of the toughest seasons.
He gave an example of when Yoder bunted a ball and the pitch hit him in the face. Fischback said he was bloody and stayed on the ground for more than a minute, then shot back up.
“He was hit in the face and he was still smiling,” Fischback said, “Personally I think he’ll fit with the champs. He has a major league body and he’s tough; his struggles don’t really show. He is built to succeed at the next level.”
Luke’s senior season has been rough. After posting a 37-21 record a year ago, the Mustangs had to wait 10 weeks to get their first weekend series win against Long Beach State. He said this season has been tough for the team because they have yet to get the pitching, defense and offense all coming together at once, but he overall he is proud of his career at Cal Poly.
“This year we haven’t been able to click,” Yoder said. “It’s not the season you want to end your last season on, but you have to look at it as, ‘Hey we did the best we could.’ I was able to be a part of something great at Cal Poly.”