The bats were swinging, and they were swinging well for Valencia baseball at the 2020 Easton Battle of the Bats on Thursday in Thousand Oaks.
The Battle of the Bats is a competition in which all teams that are primed to compete in the Easton Tournament are invited to Easton Headquarters. There, they track different hitting metrics such as trajectory, projected distance and exit velocity. The highest combined average wins the competition.
The Vikings sent four seniors — Steven Gonzalez, Brock Kleszcz, Jakob Marquez and Grant Weiss — to the Easton Batting Lab for the competition. The boys averaged a 97.9 mph exit velocity to win the Battle of the Bats as the Vikings prepare for the start of the season.
“On the car ride up we were talking about how we were going to win and not take anything less,” Gonzalez said. “To be able to go up there and win it was a great experience.”
The Battle of the Bats was one of Gonzalez’s first chances to show what he can do since he returned from a hand injury that kept him from playing for much of the 2019 season. Now, he is eager to make 2020 his redemption tour with the Vikings. He led the group with an exit velocity of 102.3 mph.
“I came out just hungry and wanting to play catch-up. I see myself making a big impact this year,” he said. “On and off the field. I’m working hard.”
Valencia baseball head coach Mike Killinger has seen the same out of Gonzalez since his return.
“He’s really come around since the summer when he’s back and healthy,” Killinger said. “He’s expected to be our clean-up hitter this year.”
Gonzalez is the only one out of the four players that is not committed to a college for baseball. Weiss will stay nearby and play at Loyola Marymount next year. As for Marquez, he will be heading up north to Washington State University. Kleszcz is headed in the opposite direction to the University of California, San Diego.
Kleszcz believes that winning a competition like this will be a big boost to his confidence and his team’s confidence as well.
“I gained a lot of confidence from it,” he said. “Hopefully it improves my season stats and helps my team out. I’m here to do whatever is best for my team and what I can do to make my team better”
A confidence boost like this is something Killinger likes to see out of a veteran player like Kleszcz. Killinger expects him to act as one of the teams leaders during his final season.
“He was first-team All-League last year,” Killinger said. “He hit .460 and I expect big things out of him.”
Killinger had a lot of praise for Weiss and Marquez, as well. He expects leadership from all four boys as the season approaches.
“He’ll be a three-year starter now,” Killinger said of Weiss. “He’s also expected to be a leader on the team.”
As for Marquez, Killinger is looking forward to seeing what he can do for the team. This is his first season with the Vikings after he transferred in from Hart this year.
Killinger will get a taste of what Marquez and the rest of his squad can do come Feb. 15 for the beginning of the Easton Tournament. The Vikings will play Burbank at 11 a.m. to kick off the season.