Marquis Fleming got used to receiving text messages from Cal State Stanislaus baseball coach Kenny Leonesio this season.
Fleming's phone beeped all five times he was named California Collegiate Athletic Association Pitcher of the Week, and again Monday, when he was unanimously chosen the CCAA Pitcher of the Year.
Then came a friendly reminder: "Don't get satisfied."
No need for Leonesio to worry about that from Fleming, and the coach knows it. Fleming leads the Warriors into today's CCAA Championship tournament, their first postseason appearance in five years. Stanislaus, seeded fourth, takes on No. 1 Sonoma State at 3 p.m. in Chico.
Fleming was one of Leonesio's first recruits, a scrawny right-hander from St. Joseph Notre Dame High in Oakland with a flexible arm and an effective fastball who showed great potential.
"He's just a great person," Leonesio said. "He's used all of his experience this year. He's learned how to pitch in this league. In the past, he was trying to do too much. Now he keeps to his plan. He's learned how to stay focused. He's one of those pitchers other teams talk about."
Catcher Tom Long admires Fleming's competitiveness. On the rare days Fleming doesn't have his best stuff, he still knows how to record outs. Long said he recognized the same scouts at nearly every Stanislaus game, compiling files on each pitcher.
No amount of homework prepared the conference batters for Fleming's changeup, the best Leonesio has seen, his fastball, which is consistently in the upper 80s, or his wicked slider.
"You just see the confusion in hitters' eyes sometimes," Long said. "You know they had a scouting report, but so what? There's nothing they can do about it."
After pitching a CCAA-high 94 2/3 innings last season, and knowing what was expected of him as a senior, Fleming rested his arm more than usual last summer.
He worked at a department store, ran and lifted weights, rarely picked up a baseball, and supported his mother, who was diagnosed with brain cancer at the end of the 2007 season.
A tumor behind Leslie Fleming's right ear has been eradicated, and her son proudly boasts about the way doctors marveled at how well the 44-year-old woman recovered after each chemotherapy treatment.
Fleming took it easy physically, but he thought about baseball a lot. The game is mostly mental, he said, and he's never lacked a competitive edge. He knew Leonesio was plotting this season, too, when he received a "random" text message at home:
"There are 100 pitchers in the CCAA but only one pitcher of the year."
That was the first message, Fleming said, that provided him with a spark.
Fleming said every time Leonesio sent him a text message, "I thought, 'I've got to get better.' It's not just for me. After four years, everything finally came together.
"Two years ago, we were high in the rankings (No. 13), but everything didn't fall into place at the same time," Fleming said. "We'd hit well but didn't pitch, or our pitching would be good but we didn't hit. Everything fell into place at the right time."
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