SU gets a boost from the Bronx
When Roger Cador saw his shortstop hobbling around in the dugout, the victim of a pulled hamstring, he knew life was about to get a little more complicated.
That’s how important Jeremy Lopez was to the Southern baseball team.
“When he got hurt, I said, ‘Oh, we’re losing a fiery competitor,’” Cador said. “You could see it: We went into a funk.”
That, of course, depends on your definition of a funk.
If losing eight out of nine games amounts to a funk, then yes, the Jaguars were certainly in a funk. Their slide came in March, shortly after Lopez suffered his leg injury after starting the first 13 games.
“When he came back, we gradually got better,” Cador said. “Now, we’re really playing pretty good.”
That they are.
In winning 13 consecutive games since April 6, the Jaguars have gone from also-ran to championship contender in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. They host the conference tournament later this month at Lee-Hines Field, where they figure to be a mild-to-heavy favorite in the eight-team field.
“Everything’s clicking. We’re playing together, and everybody knows their role,” Lopez said. “We’re doing everything we have to do. It feels great.”
Their dramatic turnaround is partially a testament to the influence of Lopez, the small-but-athletic shortstop who’s known to his teammates as “J-Lo.”
Lopez, you see, is a glue guy.
He is among the small cluster of players most likely to chirp in teammates’ ears, to clap his hands as he paces back and forth in the dugout, attempting to fire up the ballclub.
“Basically, in the infield, your shortstop is the leader,” said second baseman DeMario Ellis, who took over at shortstop while Lopez’s hamstring healed.
“Having that guy out there is a great help. ...He’s been good on defense. Even when it’s time for him to hit, he does the job. Whatever it takes to get better, that’s what he’s doing.”
In 16 games since he returned, Lopez, the team’s No. 9 hitter, is batting .310 with 15 runs scored and 13 RBIs, often working the count until he gets the pitch he wants.
And although he has 12 errors in 30 games, teammates credit Lopez for stabilizing an infield that has turned 35 double plays.
Not surprising, perhaps, considering he comes from a place that’s used to grittiness and winning.
Lopez a native of the Bronx, a devoted Yankee fan who grew up 10 minutes away from the ballpark where Jeter, Rivera and all those baseball greats won championships throughout his childhood.
Lopez was playing junior-college baseball in Oklahoma when Cador’s right-hand man, assistant coach Fernando Puebla, offered Lopez a spot on the roster.
Seemed like a good opportunity. Especially since Lopez didn’t have any other offers.
Obviously, he and Southern are glad they found each other. Together, they’re in the hunt for a ring.