Undeterred by his past failures, former Ceres Blaze and Ceres Youth Baseball standout Orlando Leon Jr. headed to Manteca's Big League Dreams Park in June with one goal in mind.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound catcher/pitcher made it through the first round of cuts on his way to being selected by USA Baseball to represent Northern California at the 14-and-under National Team Identification Series (NTIS) in North Carolina, Aug. 27-30.
"I did really well at tryouts," Leon said. "I was a little nervous because I didn't make it the last two years. I was still confident. I worked on everything leading up to this year's event."
"This is a huge honor as there were kids trying out from Visalia to Chico and the entire Bay Area," father Orlando Sr. said. "The ultimate goal is being selected to Team USA. I probably sound like a crazy dad hyping up his son, but the truth is he works hard and he never gets to hear me tell him how good I think he is."
First-round tryouts were staged in Manteca. Approximately 32 players from Big League Dreams Park were invited to participate in an all-star game at Stockton's Billy Hebert Field. Sixteen of those players earned roster spots on the Northern California Team, including Leon. Orlando Jr. logged one inning at pitcher during the showcase contest. He had two strikeouts and induced one groundout. He played catcher in the seventh and eighth innings.
Leon had unsuccessful tryouts at the 13U and 12U levels.
"He tried out for it the last two years and didn't make it," said Orlando Sr. "Every year, he's gradually improved. He's always had athletic ability. His baseball game finally caught up with him. I'm proud of him."
"The competition was a lot tougher this year," Orlando Jr. said. "I finally made it. It means a lot. It gets me more motivated for everything I do."
Orlando Jr. played the sport for the first time when he signed up for t-ball as a youngster.
Orlando Sr. was his coach for a total of four seasons.
"It's awesome," Orlando Jr. said. "Not a lot of kids have the opportunity to play for their dad. I just really enjoyed it. He's really helped me improve my game and discipline on the field. He's been there supporting me since day one."
Leon and Northern California will play three games against teams from across the country.
Orlando Jr. will try to earn an invitation to the 15U National Team trials.
"I'm really excited," he said. "I should do well over there."
Orlando Jr. attended schools in Ceres, including Mae Hensley Jr. High and Virginia Parks, prior to enrolling at Central Catholic High School.