Three weeks ago, Tommy Hernandez was still deciding on whether to enroll at Gavilan College or Hartnell College to play baseball. Jacob Trujillo’s future was a bit clearer, as he had enrolled at Gavilan after playing a year at Mission College in Santa Clara.
Now the childhood friends and lifelong teammates are headed to Nebraska to play for Peru State, a NAIA program that finished 39-16 last season. Both players were offered scholarships three weeks ago while playing in a tournament in San Diego.
“It was a shocker to be offered a deal to play college baseball for the next three years,” said Trujillo, a 2014 San Benito High graduate. “I couldn’t pass up a deal like that, to experience something out of state. It was pretty crazy in how it all went down, and I figured I’d see where this journey takes me.”
Said Hernandez: “I’m very, very excited and stoked. It’s definitely going to be a new experience, but I’m looking forward to it. Peru is a small town, but so is Hollister, and I think this is going to work out well.”
Hernandez, a 2015 San Benito High graduate, and Trujillo both credited the Watsonville Aggies for helping them get noticed. The Aggies are a strong traveling club program that had several current and former Balers playing on the squad this summer.
Hernandez and Trujillo were recognized in the Aggies’ final tournament of the season, the Phil Singer Summer Series in San Diego from July 24 to 31. Peru State coach Josh Oltmans was in attendance and introduced himself to both players before offering them scholarships the next day.
“Playing for the Aggies helped us get Peru State’s attention,” Hernandez said.
Indeed, the Aggies played 46 games this summer against top-flight competition in several tournaments. Trujillo said he made six or seven starts, while Hernandez said he made a couple of starts while also appearing in relief and save situations. It’s no coincidence the left-handed Trujillo and the right-handed Hernandez both were offered scholarships after they posted a solid summer campaign.
“Coach Josh said he liked how I really kept the ball low and competed,” said Trujillo, who will be a sophomore after playing his freshman year at Mission College. “He also liked my change-up.”
Trujillo initially had a scholarship to play for Cal State Bakersfield before the start of his senior season at San Benito, but things fell through late and he opted to play at a community college. Despite the setback, Trujillo said he became a better pitcher in his one year at Mission.
“The community college experience helped me a lot because the level of competition is very high,” he said. “I had to work my butt off in my one year at Mission, and it made me a better pitcher.”
Hernandez made similar gains this summer pitching against college level competition.
“I felt I got more in the zone this summer,” he said. “Against really good college players, you have to really stay down in the zone or they’ll take one out on you in a hurry. Every time I went out there to pitch, I thought about my last high school game (San Benito’s 2-1 loss to Soquel in the Central Coast Section Open Division quarterfinals). It stuck with me, and I used it to help me pitch better in the summer.”
Hernandez said he can’t wait to arrive in Peru, which is 65 miles south of Omaha, the site of the College World Series. Hernandez and Trujillo grew up playing together on the same Little League, Babe Ruth and traveling baseball teams. Now they’ll make their way to Nebraska in what they hope will be the next step in their journey toward a possible pro career.
“It’s exciting having Tommy go up there with me,” Trujillo said. “To go with a buddy you grew up with and represent Hollister is a pretty good deal.”
Since Peru State graduated a couple of starters from last year’s 39-16 team, Hernandez and Trujillo might be competing for one of the starter’s roles.
“It’s actually nice because we have a good friendship,” Hernandez said. “We’re going to be far away from home, but at least I have a Hollister guy with me. Coach said the Friday and Saturday starter spots are open, so it’s basically up to us to work hard and earn one of those spots.”
Hernandez throws a solid fastball, slider and change-up, tinkering with the latter pitch this summer.
“I gripped my change-up a little different and it seems to be working right now,” he said. “My slider is still kind of my go-to pitch, but I’m gaining more confidence with the change-up.”
Trujillo’s career has come full circle. He’s had some ups and downs, but now he’s mentally and physically ready to have three great years at Peru State. Everything has become crystal clear for the former San Benito standout.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after one year at Mission,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to transfer after one year, but it’s turned out for the better. I couldn’t be happier.”