Baseball seniors find family on, off the diamond

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Author: Stephen Nemeth

It was the bottom of the eighth inning: AJ Libunao (senior) at bat and Jeffrey Johnson (senior) on third base. The game was tied 4-4. The pitcher from Pomona-Pitzer was taking his time in his wind up and Johnson bolted for home plate.

Johnson stole home and the score suddenly was 5-4 in favor of Occidental going into the ninth inning. All it took was holding off Pomona for this last half of an inning. The Tigers got three outs and walked away with a victory.

The seniors of the Occidental College baseball team love remembering these moments—going in as the underdogs and coming out on top.

Seniors Libunao, Chris Strain, Victor Munoz, Jonathan Wong and James Aubrey all recalled this as one of their favorite memories from their time on the baseball team.

“[It was] one of the craziest moments I have ever had in my baseball career,” Wong recalled.

When each senior of the team arrived on campus in 2011 they only knew family life and friends from their childhood. Showing up to the college, they also knew the baseball team had a 22-year streak of losing seasons. That changed with this new group of incoming first-years, who helped the team to earn their first winning season since 1990.

Quickly the eight men found a new family in the teammates they would compete alongside for the next four years. From Washington, Illinois, California and Missouri these men came together and would form a relationship that they admit will be hard to let go once they are done with this last season.

“I will miss coming out to the field everyday to play the game I love with my teammates the most,” Aubrey said via email. “Baseball has been such a huge part of my entire life and my teammates are like family to me so it will be really hard to leave all that behind.”

Johnson said in their first year at Occidental he and roommate Aubrey would show up to the field just to practice batting. They met other members of the team like Libunao, Wong and Johnathan Brooks (senior), who goes by JB, and quickly formed long lasting friendships.

“We were all out there a lot, working together,” Johnson said. “I felt a connection very quickly.”

As their last season comes to a close, Joseph Kling (senior) and Strain emphasized how much they will miss the game itself. Most of the seniors hope to be involved in baseball in some way after college.

“It’ll definitely be a big change. Something I’ll miss. I am sure as soon as I am done it’ll probably be a tear jerker a little bit, but it has definitely been fun. A lot of memories to look back on,” Strain said.

After four years of memories—from coming back from an eight run deficit against Whittier their first year on team, to defeating Chapman this year on a suicide squeeze in the bottom of the ninth—this year’s seniors are leaving not just the game of baseball, but a team that has bonded together as a family.

“It’s a real tight-knit community,” Munoz said. “I have been on other teams and there were people who get along but like definitely, this senior class is probably the closest I have ever been with teammates.”

The seniors of the baseball team will be going separate ways after graduating in the next month. Johnson plans to go canoeing along the Yukon River with his brother. Brooks will head home to help his brother get started with his own college career while his best friend Libunao will head off to pursue his future in Boston.

Strain will be attending Azusa Pacific University to study physical therapy, while Munoz looks to work in the medical field and take the MCAT before pursuing graduate school. Aubrey is not sure what he will do after graduation but is leaning toward working as a personal trainer. Wong and Kling will both head home to find work before considering graduate school.

Most of them see themselves involved in baseball in some capacity in the future, although there are no definite plans for any of them. Although they may run into each other at Occidental in the future—perhaps at an alumni game—Libunao has an idea in mind for where he will see all of his friends together once more.

“I expect to be invited to every one of these guys weddings in the future,” Libunao said.

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