Building a pipeline

They’ve started a pipeline leading from Glendale to three miles outside Washington, D.C.

Political ties are not affiliated with this pipeline, however. It’s centered around a handful of former Glendale Community College baseball players looking to continue their collegiate careers at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Md.

Glendale college Coach Chris Cicuto and Columbia Union College Coach Michael Ricucci began structuring the channel last spring. It was started with former Vaqueros Matt Magallon and John DeGomez, who became the first links in the migration.

The goal will be to continue sending additional players across the country to hit, pitch and field for the Division II program that won the United States Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship in 2008, the first in the college’s history.

“It’s a good opportunity for the Glendale college players to be taken from a pool of talent in California, [players] who are not getting Division I looks here, and have them go [to Columbia Union],” Cicuto said. “It’s also a good experience to go to another lifestyle and culture.

“I’d never heard of Columbia Union before last year. Coach Ricucci and I have since developed a good relationship. The longer you coach, the more you build relationships.”

Further strengthening the connection will take time. However, there’s a possibility that several more Glendale college players from the 2009 season will follow in the footsteps of Magallon and DeGomez.

Ricucci has made several trips to California the past several years to hunt for players willing to move east. He had never heard of Glendale college until meeting with Cicuto in 2008.

“The last four years, I’ve been sent to California to recruit,” said Ricucci, whose team finished last season 25-20 and 3-3 in the postseason. “I’ve gone around Los Angeles and into San Bernardino County, and it seems as though all of the highways go to junior colleges.

“Some players in California have nowhere to go because there are caps on roster sizes. There are top players in California who have the pedigree and who can play well. We’ve seen that with Magallon and DeGomez, for example.”

Magallon, a Glendale resident and a Bellarmine-Jefferson High graduate, and DeGomez didn’t disappoint in their first seasons with the Pioneers.

Magallon, a junior second baseman/shortstop, earned USCAA first-team All-American accolades after he batted .361 (44 for 122) with two home runs and 12 runs batted in. He also registered five doubles, scored 32 runs, stole 18 bases and had an 18-game hitting streak.

DeGomez, a catcher/infielder, batted .283 (36 for 127) with three home runs and 28 runs batted in. He finished with six doubles and stole six bases, in addition to making 74 putouts and 67 assists.

The possibility of enduring culture shock didn’t dissuade Magallon or DeGomez from moving across the country.

“It’s baseball, and the least of my worries was moving 3,000 miles,” said Magallon, who redshirted and played his freshman year at Cal State Dominguez Hills before transferring to Glendale college for the 2008 campaign. “As long as I got an opportunity to move on to the next level of baseball [that’s all that mattered].

“I brought John with me on my trip. I told him that it would be good for both of us.”

DeGomez, who is spending the summer in the Western Major Baseball League in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Canada, said he wanted to experience playing baseball in another part of the country.

The San Diego-native found Columbia Union College to his liking.

“You get back there and you don’t see any signs on the highways [identifying the college],” DeGomez said. “Ever since I’ve got there, I’ve loved it.

“You need to make your own decision by doing what’s best for you, but Matt and I enjoy ourselves playing there. The biggest thing people ask me is how we’ve survived there, and they want to hear it from another mouth.

“We both played for GCC, so they trust our opinion. I’m not going to lie to them. I tell them that they have an opportunity to play and get an education. Hopefully, we can continue to get solid recruits from GCC and California, and then hopefully get to the World Series.”

Six of the 19 players on the 2009 Columbia Union College program hail from California, ranging from Glendale to Redlands to San Diego.

It’s a goal of Ricucci’s to continue importing players from throughout the state.

Glendale college has been made aware of that.

For instance, Vaqueros sophomore outfielder Andrew Sember is on the verge of deciding where to transfer. He hasn’t ruled out moving on to Columbia Union College, nor have Vaqueros Byron Pacheco, Chris Turner and Chris Arredondo.

“Coach Ricucci was the first one to start recruiting me,” said Sember, a St. Francis High graduate who batted .283 with two home runs, 23 runs batted in and 23 runs scored last season. “He was impressed with the way I played and I think he likes the GCC players a lot.

“I’ve talked to John and Matt about the atmosphere there and they love it. They are good friends of mine. As a school that’s got a young [baseball] history, you can see that they are competitive year after year.”

There’s a drawback or two to playing baseball year round on the East Coast. For example, baseball usually isn’t played outside during the winter, compared to most of the West Coast, where the sport can be played monthly.

“You can’t play baseball year round back there,” Magallon said. “We have to practice in the college’s gymnasium and improvise what we have. That’s the worst part about it.

“So, we hit grounders on the basketball court and the basketball players get angry from the marks left on the floor. The fly balls have to be thrown up in the air because the gym is so tiny.”

Once the cold winters and springs have become a distant memory, it’s time for Columbia Union College to get cracking on the field.

Hoping to have a vast array of talent coming through the pipeline from California puts the Pioneers in good position to succeed.

“We had about 40% of our roster this season from California,” Ricucci said. “We’d like to try to make it higher because its a recipe that’s worked and you don’t want to deviate from it.”

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