For Sati Santa Cruz Jr., a junior pitcher on the Sahuarita High School varsity baseball team, success has come at a young age.
Within the last year, the 17-year-old committed to attend the University of Arizona and play for its baseball team; played for the USA Baseball 17U National Development Team; and accepted an invitation to play in the Under Armour All-America Game Aug. 16 at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.
The fastest the 6-foot-3-inch, 225-pound right-hander has thrown is 95 mph and he consistently throws in the low 90s. He struck out 77 batters last season and had a 2.66 ERA.
Although he’s made baseball his number one sports commitment, he played for his school’s varsity basketball team this season. He also recently gave up football and wrestling, two sports he was successful in, to focus his time on baseball.
None of his accomplishments would be possible without the hard work and commitment he puts into sports, he says.
“Just because I’m Sati doesn’t mean I don’t have to work hard in everything I do,” he says. “I have to compete for my position everyday.”
He says its “a great honor” to be chosen for the Under Armour game.“It truly is. It shows me how hard I practice and how hard work pays off in the long run.”
He also has a sense of humility, says his mother, Edith Santa Cruz, that is well beyond his years, and that contributes to his success.
“Sati is very humble,” she says. “With all the opportunities he’s had, he could be very prideful. But he’s not wrapped up in himself.”
She and her husband, Sati Santa Cruz Sr., who is also the assistant coach of the Sahuarita baseball team, try to keep him that way. They say it’s important to teach their son that there will always be someone better than him, but to do his best and always strive to improve.
“Growing up he was always very competitive with himself,” his father says. “There was never a time where he said ‘I don’t want to do this.’ He always strives to get better and comes ready to play everyday.”
That dedication has also helped him become successful off the pitcher’s mound as well.
Although pitchers generally are known for being inconsistent at the plate, Sati Santa Cruz Jr. is a “monster hitter,” says Sam Gelardi, the head coach of the Sahuarita baseball team.
“He’s probably one of the top five hitters in Southern Arizona,” Gelardi says. He expects young Sati might lead Southern Arizona in RBIs this year.
Sati Santa Cruz Jr. has a formula for success.
“You just have to work really hard, keep your mind straight and don’t hang around with the wrong crowd,” he says.
This mindset has also led him to leadership roles.
“All the kids look up to him,” his father says. He’s been a leader since he was in elementary school.
“I tell him, ‘you can’t do anything dumb now because you’re a leader and the other kids will think it’s OK to do something dumb,’ ” he says.
Coach Gelardi says Sati Santa Cruz Jr.’s leadership qualities have made him an unselfish baseball player, which contributes to the team’s success.
“He cares about his teammates,” he says. “He would rather please his teammates than please himself.
His father says he’s also learned how to be a leader beyond the baseball field.
“If we go to a game and there are older people struggling with their chairs, he’ll go up and help them without me having to tell him.”
In that sense, “he’s got a kind heart,” his mother adds. “He’s a sweet guy. He’s a big boy, but he’s still a kid at heart.”
Sati Santa Cruz Jr. credits his folks with his achievements. He wouldn’t be where he is today without the constant support of his number one role models.
“I just realize how much they do for me and that I need to pay them back somehow,” he says. “So I’m just working hard and trying to make them happy — that’s all I can do.”
His parents’ support started at the beginning of his career and remains to this day.
His mother would catch pitches for him and his younger brother. His father would get off work, grab the kids and head to the baseball field.
“Sometimes I thought it was way too much,” his mother says. “But then after a while, I realized that this is what they truly love to do, so now I encourage it.”
Despite his recent accomplishments, Sati Santa Cruz Jr. has no intention of slowing down.
He says his number one goal for the upcoming season is to help himself and his team get better and win a state championship. He’s shooting for at least 90 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.0 or lower.
He says he’s also excited for what the future holds. But before anything, “I will definitely get my education [at the UA]. It’s a must.” After the UA, he says he plans to enter the Major League Baseball draft.
In addition to his parents, he credits “god for all of the blessings he’s given me,” he says. “I also want to thank my parents for pushing me.”