Soboba Tribal Member makes an impact on the diamond ◆ By Mike Hiles
San Jacinto High School senior Ajay Parcero graduates today but his time on the baseball field will not end. He will play at Concordia University in the fall and he has been selected to play in the 2018 San Bernardino County vs. Riverside County Senior All-Star Game on Friday at San Manuel Stadium, home of the Inland Empire 66ers minor league baseball team.
The top 27 seniors from each county were hand-picked by their coaches who are members of the Inland Empire Baseball Coaches Association, which sponsors the all-star game each year. The IEBCA is an organization that promotes baseball in the Inland Empire with an emphasis on high school baseball. It is dedicated to providing exposure to players for recruiting purposes and promoting co-operation and camaraderie within the coaching ranks.
"I nominated Ajay for the Riverside County All-Star team not only because he was the best hitter on our team, but his offensive numbers are amongst the best in the Inland Empire," said Rick Zepek, who has coached baseball at San Jacinto High for 17 years.
Only the best of the best are chosen from the nominees based on stats gathered throughout the season and strong recommendations from coaches.
Ajay, a Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians tribal member, has been playing baseball since he was very young and started out with Hemet Youth Baseball. The turning point for him came when he was 12 years old and began playing year-round travel ball.
"It seemed everyone around was better than me but I stuck with it and my natural talents came out," he said.
Strong support from his family helped him along the way. Parents Albert Parcero and Julie Arrietta-Parcero let him make his own decisions about staying with the sport but encouraged him to play whenever and wherever he could to gain different experiences and develop his skill and advance to the next level. Ajay has also been a member of the Soboba BBC men's fastpitch softball team for years.
"I remember my dad coaching me when I was 11 or 12," Albert said. "High school was totally different but I wasn't as driven as Ajay was. We supported him but the drive was his own."
As a member of San Jacinto High's varsity team, Ajay has played the positions of catcher, first baseman and outfielder during his years there.
"I learned not to give up even if you are down in a slump," he said. "Always have confidence in yourself because that's where it all starts."
And he will be taking that confidence and his skills to Concordia University in Irvine this fall after another tour with the Inland Empire-based California Jays that he has been playing with for the past two years.
"They have played all across the United States; my husband goes everywhere with him," Julie said. She said she never missed any of her son's high school games.
Albert transports cars for a living, which has allowed him to attend his son's games because of his flexible schedule.
"I would sacrifice some days going to work in the morning, then taking a break to watch his game and return to work after," Albert said.
Ajay is looking forward to attending college near the beach as he plays baseball and majors in communications studies. He was invited to enroll there after a scout visited him at the urging of his travel ball coach, Mike Montano. Colleges in Colorado and New Mexico also courted Ajay but he chose to stay in California.
"We usually get one or two players each year that go on and play at the college level," Zepek said. "College baseball is completely different than high school baseball. College baseball has the top players from high schools across the country. It is a much larger time commitment and only the players with the greatest work ethics will be successful."
Ajay, who is a self-proclaimed San Francisco Giants fan, said he plans to play the sport as long as he can and try to make it a job one day.
"I still can't believe it; I get all teary when I sit down and think of it – how far he has come since when he first started T-ball," Julie said.
Ajay is looking forward to being in the All-Star game because his friend, Andre Granillo, has also been selected to play. The West Valley High School pitcher has played on the same travel ball team with Ajay since they were young and Andre has committed to play for UC, Riverside in the fall.
"Throughout high school we always played against each other and now we will be on the same team," said Ajay, 18.
From the nine nominated catchers, only three were chosen for the All-Star team and Ajay will catch for three innings; he is hoping Andre will be the pitcher for the same three innings.
"What makes Ajay such a good player is that he puts in a lot of extra work in the off season and he loves to play the game," Zepek said.