Before each Fresno State game, pitcher Derick Velazquez has a ritual to get him in the zone. From which foot he puts the sock on first (his right), to the order of his stretches, it all follows a consistent pattern.
To stay in the zone, he breaks out his pregame music playlist. The prominent artist on his device is Grammy Award-winner Drake. After all, listening to him helped Velazquez keep his focus during his season at junior college.
This set of pre-game preparation helps Velazquez take full advantage of his opportunities on the mound. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound righty is entering his second season as a Fresno State pitcher.
The 20-year old played his freshman collegiate season at Merced College before coming to Fresno State. He chose to come to Fresno to play for head coach Mike Batesole because of the historic success of the program.
“[The Bulldogs] have a good history of having a good D-I baseball team,” Velasquez said. “A lot of local guys like to come here and take on the best teams in the nation. They have a good reputation of beating them so it sounds like a good program to be at.”
And playing at Fresno State has been a different experience for Velazquez.
“Everything is under a magnifying glass, it’s bigger,” he said. “The crowd is more energetic and the games are taken more seriously. It’s just a different atmosphere.”
In his first season for the Bulldogs last year, he finished with a 4-2 with a 4.40 ERA. It was not the year he was looking for, but he notes that he can still improve.
“I would rate it as a 5 [out of 10],” Velasquez said of his performance last year. “It was not what I was expecting, but it was something to learn from.”
The junior, who started 11 games and had 52 strikeouts a year ago, has a variety of pitches in his arsenal. He throws four- and two-seam fastballs, a change up, and two different curveballs – a slow and hard one. The bread-and-butter pitch, he says, is his harder curve.
A young introduction
Velazquez’s first taste in baseball did not come from his parents. Rather, it was his babysitter who introduced him to the sport when he was 4.
“She had sons who would put me in T-ball,” he said, “and it just stuck. My mom saw that I was having fun, so she kept putting me in there and it just took off.”
Growing up, he played also played basketball, but took baseball more seriously because he was more passionate about it and had more success.
He attended Los Banos High School, where he lettered in baseball and participated in the Merced County All-Star Game. He has also received honors as a Bulldog by being named to the Mountain West Academic All-Conference team in 2013.
And for the young pitcher, his love of the game of baseball has changed from his beginnings as a 4-year-old T-ball player to a Division-I hurler.
“You just have fun in the beginning,” he said. “But later on in high school, you start to compare yourself to other players and see if you can keep playing. Once you get to college, that’s when you determine if you want to have a career in baseball.”
When asked where he was at mentally as a college junior, Velazquez answered in six words:
“I want to continue to play.”