Mike Velasquez looks out onto Robstown’s Little League field.
He talks about his favorite memories on that diamond. He recalls how an entire team was afraid to play against him because of how hard he pitched. He remembers how he always wanted to play with the older kids who thought he was too little. He lets out a big smile when he thinks of the first team he played for, the Mariners, coached by a friend of his father's.
It’s been a long journey for Velasquez, adding a few more chapters to the history of Robstown baseball along the way. As he prepares to leave for college in a few weeks, he holds true to what made him achieve so much: It all started at this Little League field.
“Growing up here was straight baseball,” he said. “I always had a competitive mind-set when I played. I still have that and look where I’m headed to now.”
Come next season, Velasquez will be taking the mound for San Jacinto Junior College in Houston. He hopes after a year there, he’ll be drafted by a Major League team.
“(San Jacinto) is one of the best at getting players drafted,” he says.
He’s not just saying that out of pride for his new school. Last year six of their players were drafted by MLB teams and twenty different alumni played professionally in 2010.
Between the little league field and college baseball, there were few seasons that matched the obstacles he faced as a senior at Robstown High School.
Following his junior season in 2010, Velasquez and his teammates had to overcome the controversial resignation of long time head coach, Steve Castro.
“He’s one heck of a coach. He knows the game of baseball so well. Anything you asked, he always had an answer," Velasquez says. "We tried to get him back. (Afterwards), I gathered everyone together and told them, whoever our coach is we got to just keep working.”
Following the hiring of current coach, Elias Vasquez Jr., Velasquez signed a letter of intent to play for Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and set his sights on leading his team to a state championship.
But just a few games into the season, coaches noticed that Velasquez was taking much longer to warm up. He told them that he had been having pains in his back. After evaluation, it was discovered that he had a lower back strain that required time off the baseball field.
“It was because I had a weak core,” he says. “As a pitcher you need to have a good core to throw that fast ball.”
Velasquez admits that it was an injury that developed over time and not a one time incident. But he did not let the thought of an end to his baseball career last long.
“I thought I was really done. I could barely bend over. But I told myself, my team needs me," he says. "It hurt to not be out there with them, but I was still there to support them. I did a lot of workouts during and after school so I could get back to help.”
During his absence due to the injury, Velasquez had time to contemplate his future. Even though he had already made his commitment to TAMUCC, there were professional scouts looking to get him in the MLB draft out of high school.
“I saw all these major league scout coming at me so quick,” he says. “I never thought that was going to happen to a kid like me from a little town called Robstown. The Diamondbacks were the team that wanted me the most. They told me they wanted to get me in the fifth to tenth round.”
But because of his back problems, he informed the professional scouts he was going to focus on getting healthy and would play at least a year at college before going pro.
With that in mind, he decided to take another look at which college he would attend.
“I called (TAMUCC) and let them know it wasn’t anything personal,” he says. “It was more of a family matter. My father and I were looking at the big picture.”
Velasquez felt the junior college route was better suited to his plans on going pro sooner than later. After finalizing that, he kept his sights on returning to the field with his teammates.
On the final game of the regular season and district play against Lyford, Velasquez made his return with a strong performance. He went 3-for-3 with two doubles and a single.
“My coach told me the ball was just flying off my bat that game,” he says. “I was just really hungry and ready to get back.”
With the playoffs about to start, he felt good coming back as Robstown was already looking good to return to the State Tournament for the first time in 19 years. Pitching several games along the way, the Cotton Pickers did just that.
“I had some cousins who won it for Robstown in ‘91 and ‘92. I also had another cousin who won it for Calallen in 2000," Velasquez says. "It's just one of those things you want to go get for your city. Just the feeling of taking your town back, was a good feeling.”
Despite losing to Kennedale, 5-4 in the State Semifinals, Velasquez felt little disappointment in the loss.
“I told everybody, 'Why hang your head down?'” he says “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. It didn’t happen our way, but we worked hard for it. It would of been a whole different ball game (had we had a few more innings). We were just starting to hit it in the late sixth inning. But I can’t change it, we can only learn from it.”
Because of his injury, Velasquez was not recognized on the 31-3A all-district selections. But his outstanding play in the playoffs on the mound and at the plate gave him first team all-state honors by both the state coaches and media associations, a rare situation.
After another visit to the field he started playing as a young boy, Velasquez walks away ready for the next step. Painted on the field’s concession stand reads, “Where believing starts.”
With such drive and determination, Mike Velasquez shows that while it starts at that field, it never stops. He continues to believe he and many others from Robstown will always shine on the diamond.
— Photo and story by