In order to continue his acceleration at becoming a more complete pitcher, Dustin Emmons has spent the first part of the summer crossing the country.
Shuffling through busy airports and fighting jet lag, it's been a worthwhile process for the former Crescenta Valley High pitcher. Emmons' goal is simple — keep working on perfecting all of his pitches so that he's in line to achieve additional success that might coincide with a professional career.
"It's worth it," said Emmons, a senior-to-be on the UC Riverside baseball team if he chooses to play his final season, as he was selected by the Florida Marlins with the 1,217th overall pick in the 40th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Players Draft on June 9. "Every year you learn and you want to never stop.
"I have to keep being open-minded and keep going out there and showing all kinds of progress."
Emmons recently returned from Massachusetts, where he spent two weeks competing in the talented Cape Cod Baseball League on a temporary contract. The right-hander made three appearances for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, going 0-1 with one save and a 3.68 earned-run average. He struck out four and allowed seven hits in 7 1/3 innings with the Red Sox.
In a short amount of time, Emmons faced some of the best collegiate hitters and found out what he needs to work on leading up to a possible final season with Riverside or a decision to head to the professional ranks.
"I think it's an awesome experience," said Emmons, who left for Cape Cod on June 15 before seeing his contract expire June 27. "I got to start and face plenty of legitimate competition.
"It's the best and you really can't get any better. You are out there facing the toughest hitters. While my time there was brief, I learned so many things that I can take into next year."
While Emmons wouldn't have minded continuing to pitch and take in the small-town character of Cape Cod, he realized there were still plenty of alternatives for him to attack. One of them was returning to the Corvallis Knights, a West Coast League summer collegiate team.
Emmons rejoined the team Tuesday. He made his debut with the Knights on Wednesday, allowing one run on three hits in two innings in Corvallis' 14-2 home victory against the Wenatchee Apple Sox. He struck out two.
Corvallis proved to be a place where Emmons could thrive a summer ago.
Emmons spent last season with the Oregon-based squad, going 5-0 with a 1.69 ERA in seven appearances. He struck out 21 in 32 innings.
"I did well there last year," said Emmons, a former All-Area Player of the Year, Pacific League Most Valuable Player and All-CIF selection. "Now, I can go up there and provide some leadership for the team, work on my pitching mechanics and I'm familiar with the team and league."
The stay in Corvallis worked wonders for Emmons and helped propel him for a quality junior season with Riverside. This past season, Emmons went 9-4 with a 3.99 ERA in 16 appearances. He struck out 51 in 90 1/3 innings despite battling a left-wrist injury and helped the Highlanders finish 32-23 and 13-11 in the Big West Conference.
Sixth-year Riverside Coach Doug Smith said he encourages his players to compete in summer leagues around the country.
"The advantage to going to these places, whether it's Cape Cod or Corvallis, is that you play against different players who are very accomplished," Smith said. "Then, you start to share different ideas and you compare notes with guys about how to do things and then you make choices.
"You take the good stuff and discard the other stuff and growth comes in. With Dustin, he pitched a lot this season. You put him into more situations and now he's more likely to succeed again."
Smith saw marked improvement from Emmons, who suffered from arm fatigue after pitching five straight months in 2009.
Smith said he was eager to see what Emmons, the 2007 News-Press James H. Jenkins Male Athlete of the Year, could bring to the table for the Highlanders.
"He came back here with the ability to throw three pitches — fastball, breaking ball and change-up — consistently," Smith said. "When you are able to put things together, you get an elite player.
"He showed that he's a hard worker and the ultimate team guy."
Emmons starred for four seasons with Crescenta Valley. He went on to win 29 games, ranking him first in the program's history.
After current major leaguer Trevor Bell graduated, Emmons flourished and proved to be a bona fide ace for the Falcons, who won four straight league championships with Emmons on board.
"He piled up a lot of wins for us and you could see that he won't let anybody outwork him," Crescenta Valley Coach Phil Torres said. "Now, he's playing against real good players in college and pro ball."
Emmons will now look to finish up strong the next six weeks. There's plenty of incentive for Emmons to accomplish that feat while weighing his future options.
"I just want to go up to Corvallis and have a good season for them right now," said Emmons, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 44th round in 2007 out of high school. "It's great to be drafted, but I'm not sure what I'm going to do.
"I want to keep pitching well and have people take a look at me and see what I can do."