Villarreal finds success on diamond
Jesse Villarreal grew up in football family.
To be more specific – a Dallas Cowboy family.
The Quincy High School graduate played a little football growing up, but found early on it was not his true love.
His true passion is America’s pastime – baseball.
“I felt like I had a better chance to be successful in baseball than in football,” he said.
Jesse jumped from playing center on the gridiron during his football days to catcher in high school. And he’s pretty handy with a bat. While he is not a home run hitter, he has his fair share of bombs.
He just seems to get the bat on the ball.
“He’s one of the more well-rounded hitters. He can hit for power, pull it, put down a squeeze bunt. He stays within himself,” said Matt Tait, who was Jesse’s coach at QHS. “He really learned to hit the ball where it’s pitched. That’s what great hitters do.”
In his senior season, Jesse batted .490 and as a junior he had a .360 average. That helped him land a spot on the Big Bend Community College Vikings baseball team this fall.
“He’s super coachable and that’s what allows him to be successful,” Tait said. “He is dedicated to baseball.”
Jesse can thank his uncle, Jaime Villarreal, for the love of baseball. Jaime was the younger Villarreal’s coach when he started at 5 years old.
“My Uncle Jaime coached me up until Babe Ruth,” Jesse said.
For the first five years of baseball, Jesse was a shortstop. That was until an injury behind the plate forced him into a new role.
“I played shortstop until this one game when our catcher got injured and my uncle said, ‘You’re in,’ Jesse said. “It was hard at first. I’ve learned a lot over the years from different coaches.”
Being a coachable player also has landed Jesse a spot on the CWAC’s First-Team All-League as a catcher and, ultimately, on the All-State team. He played in a feeder game in Cashmere and got noticed.
“After the game they chose top-6 guys to be nominated for the All-State game and all six made it,” Jesse said.
In the feeder game, Jesse went 3-for-5 with a pair of singles, a double and five RBIs. In the All-State game he went 1-for-3 with two walks.
For Jesse, his march to junior college baseball started his freshman year.
“My freshman year I told myself I wanted to go on and play college ball,” he said. “In my junior year I finally figured out I had to work hard.”
The key was putting in the work, proving he could hit the ball and having coach Tait recommend him.
“I like the vibe of the team and the coaching staff is great,” Jesse said.
There will be competition at catcher for Jesse with one returning player as well Justin DeHoog from Ephrata. But Jesse believes there’s a spot for him, whether it is behind the plate or in the infield.
“I can play first base too,” he said. “So I will try out for that so I can have a secondary position.”
Jesse is a diverse player. He played catcher and first and third base for the Columbia Basin River Dogs and River Bandits this summer.
“He can play the corners no problem,” Tait said. “If he can hit the ball, they will play him.”
Playing with the Columbia Basin squads has also helped Jesse over the past two summers. The River Dogs play tough teams. Jesse also has “lived in the batting cages” with fellow Jackrabbits Nick Lopez and Mark Horning, he said.
A team leader and three-year varsity player, Jesse will be tough to replace on the Jacks squad next spring.
“He is everything we expected our players to be,” said Tait. “He’s a great kid. One of the best I’ve been around in a long time and I’ve been coaching for 12 years.”
~Kurtis J. Wood/Post-Register