Orestimba High pitcher Tanner Pruett trots from the mound after the third out of the inning and meets coach Matt Candelario a few steps in front of the Warriors’ dugout. Candelario wants to give his players a little pep talk before heading for their seats on the bench.
Facing his coach, Pruett notices that not everybody has joined the huddle, so he turns and exhorts his teammates.
“Hustle,” he says.
It’s an order, both gentle and firm, issued by a senior secure with his position in the team’s hierarchy. It’s not meant to draw attention, or to impress anyone. It’s just what Tanner Pruett does.
Later, when the opposing pitcher tosses a pitch a couple feet short of home plate, a teammate makes a crack about this being baseball, not cricket.
Again, the four-year varsity starter is there to ride herd on the squad.
“Hey, let’s not be disrespectful,” Pruett reminds his teammates. The razzing comes to a screeching halt.
“I’m all for having fun,” said Pruett, “but we don’t want to get carried away.”
Maybe so, but it’s easy to get carried away when talking about Pruett, who has been having plenty of fun on the mound this season.
The 5-foot-11, 145-pound southpaw is a perfect 6-0 with a 0.58 ERA. In 482/3 innings, he’s struck out 75, walked nine and yielded 22 hits. He’s thrown two no-hitters this season – against Modesto Christian and Hilmar – and against Riverbank he threw 62/3 innings of perfect ball.
The last Bruins batter hit one back up the middle and Pruett’s momentum took him toward the third-base line.
“I almost stabbed it across my body,” said Pruett, who plays first base when he’s not pitching. “The second baseman came up charging, but it was hit too slowly. By the time he made the throw, the runner was safe by about two steps.
“I almost had it. I can’t really complain.”
Pruett rarely does. Not even during football season when he separated his non-throwing shoulder in the season’s first game.
“He was expected to miss four games,” said Steven Machado, a teammate on the football and baseball teams who has known Pruett since third grade. “He toughed it out and came back the next week.
“He doesn’t take plays off and he practices hard.”
Pruett’s coach can attest to that.
“He’s a real pleasure to coach,” said Candelario, whose team plays today for the Art McRae Tournament title at 3:30 p.m. against host Ceres. “He’s fully committed to what we’re doing. He’s the kind of kid every coach would love to have.”
Part of that might have to do with Pruett’s strong Christian faith. On the back of his spikes is his favorite Bible verse. The word “Romans” is printed on the heel of his left shoe, and “1:16” is the on the back of the right.
“It’s my favorite verse and it’s about not being ashamed of being a Christian,” said Pruett. “Some people are embarrassed because of the stereotypes, but I’m proud of it.
“God gave me the ability to play, and I’m not ashamed to say it’s because of God.”
He’s also not afraid to talk about his battle with Tourette syndrome.
Pruett was diagnosed with a mild case of the disorder when he was a toddler. The ticks often associated with the disorder aren’t very noticeable with Pruett.
“It looks almost like I’m rolling my eyes at somebody,” said Pruett of his ticks. “If I’m having a conversation with somebody, it looks almost like I’m being disrespectful. And if it’s bright outside, my eyes will tick even more.”
That’s why Pruett wears sunglasses while on the mound, which contributes even more to his laid-back demeanor.
And you know the old song about shades: The future’s so bright …
Long-term, Pruett’s baseball future remains unclear. He has a mid-80s fastball to go with a curve, slider and a change-up – “I rely on movement and location; it’s working,” he says – and he’s slight of build. Only a few small colleges have shown interest.
Regarding the short-term, Orestimba is right in the thick of the Trans-Valley League pennant chase, tied for first with Ripon and Hughson, and could grab one of the league’s three Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berths.
“I’m not really concerned so much with the league title,” said Pruett. “I just want to make sure we get into the playoffs.”
Pruett should have a large say in that. He’ll get starts against each TVL rival. If he wins, assuring at least a pair of series splits, the Warriors are guaranteed of no worse than a tie for third with Escalon (if it closes the season with victories against winless Modesto Christian). After that, since the teams split their head-to-head matchup, the berth would come down to the second or third tie-breakers.
It’s that close.
“The guys have talked about it in the locker room and the dugout, but we tend not to make a big deal out of it,” said Pruett. “It’s baseball. Anything can happen.”
Spoken like a leader.