This is a big week for the Cal State Dominguez Hills baseball team and no one knows that better than junior center fielder John Otte, the team’s leading hitter.
The Toros (12-11-1 overall, 6-4 in California Collegiate Athletic Assn. play) travel to Cal Poly Pomona on Monday and play host to the Broncos on Tuesday. On Friday the Toros play host to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the first game of a three-game series, which concludes Saturday with a doubleheader.
Throw in a nonconference game Wednesday at Southern California College in Costa Mesa and it makes for a busy week.
“Big-time week, crucial.” Otte said. “If we can sweep Pomona and take two out of three from SLO, people will be talking, but because we are so good at Dominguez, we might be able to take all three (against San Luis Obispo).”
Nineteenth-ranked Dominguez Hills is in second place in the CCAA, a half game behind sixth-ranked San Luis Obispo. Fourteenth-rated Pomona trails Dominguez Hills by half a game.
A big factor this week could be the play of Otte, who has been the team’s hottest batter. In the past five games, Otte has upped his batting average 64 points to wrest the team lead from first baseman Darrell Conner. Since March 16, Otte is 13 for 21 with 10 runs batted in, four doubles and a home run. He has also stolen five bases in five attempts.
Otte enters the week batting .443 and Conner has dipped to .432, but both men are benefitting from the play of each other, according to Coach George Wing.
“We brought Johnny in here as a leadoff hitter, thinking, well, he gets on base a lot and handles the bat real well,” Wing said. “So we had him in that spot for the first 10 or 15 games. He took a lot of pitches and was hitting late and was not nearly as aggressive as he is now.
“Meanwhile, we needed someone to protect Conner. They just weren’t pitching to him. So we figured we’d move Otte behind Conner. And we told him not to take so many pitches. It has been a big-time help.”
Otte also said a change in his batting stance has been a key in his improved performance at the plate. In past years, he was known as a slap hitter, punching the ball to all fields. But this season he changed from an open stance to a closed one.
“It helps me jerk the ball,” he said. “Last season I think I had maybe 10 or 12 hits to left field. This year almost every one has been there.”
Two seasons ago, Otte was an All-South Coast Conference outfielder at Long Beach City College. When Glen LeVier, a Viking assistant coach, was appointed coach at El Camino College, Otte, who lives in Harbor City, followed him to Torrance.
But Otte, a former Banning High standout, had an off-year at El Camino, which struggled to a 14-21-1 record. He batted .330, but “we just didn’t win, although we had a good team. It was ugly.”
When Otte’s batting average dipped, Pepperdine and Cal State Long Beach--schools that were recruiting him--backed off. Otte had an offer from Azusa Pacific, but “I figured why go all the way over there?”
So he decided to walk-on at Dominguez Hills.
Otte credits his parents, John and Bennie, with giving him guidance on making what later turned out to be the right decision.
“My dad told me to go places where people really want me, not where I think they want me.”
At Dominguez Hills Otte quickly found out that he had a future.
“Wing told me he had money for pitchers and a third baseman this year,” Otte said. “He told me the center-field position was mine to win, but if I had a good year, I could get a scholarship for my senior season.”
Otte has done more than win the center-field job, according to Wing.
“He is an outstanding outfielder,” Wing said. “He takes control of center field.”
Otte’s defensive skills were showcased earlier this season when he threw out a runner at the plate to preserve a victory.
But Wing has even more reason to appreciate Otte.
“He has accepted a leadership role,” he said. “We have a good group of seniors now that have taken that role. Next year I think he and (infielder) Miguel Medina will take that role.”
But for now, Otte wants to concentrate on this week’s games.