In the bottom of the seventh inning Monday night, right fielder Ricardo Bautista gave State College Spikes fans something to cheer about during the team’s season opener.
Bautista launched a two-run home run into the right field bleachers, showing off his power potential and accounting for State College’s only offensive production in a 9-2 loss to the Williamsport Crosscutters at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Bautista rounded the bases and pointed to the sky as he crossed home plate to thank God and honor his cousin, Josue Rivera, who died of cancer.
“Everything I do, I do for him,” Bautista said.
Monday marked the start of Bautista’s second season with the Spikes — the outfielder from Puerto Rico hit .249 and tied for the team lead with 14 doubles in 2016. He finished with two home runs in 65 games with State College last summer, and he already hammered his first home run this year. Bautista played in the Puerto Rican Winter League during the offseason, learning from veterans and hitting two home runs in 23 games.
Spikes manager Joe Kruzel is hoping to see more home runs fly off Bautista’s bat this summer.
“He’s got that in him, which is very, very good to have,” Kruzel said. “He’s got the capability of doing that.”
The Spikes struggled offensively against Williamsport’s 6-foot-10 starting pitcher Kyle Young, who allowed two hits in five scoreless innings. The Spikes finished with six hits in the loss, and Bautista’s home run was the team’s lone extra base hit.
Bautista went to the plate looking for a good pitch to drive. And he crushed an offering from Crosscutters reliever Andrew Brown over the right field wall.
“Ricardo’s got an amazing swing. Everybody just saw it right there on display — hit a ball real hard and it was pretty,” Spikes starting pitcher Sam Tewes said. “Everything about it was pretty. He’s going to be really good for us this year.”
Bautista’s home run gave him a chance to remember his cousin during the first game of this season. Bautista said his cousin was 7 years old when he died three years ago and described him as a “little brother.”
He smiled as he recalled Rivera’s sense of humor, which he saw even when his cousin was in the hospital. When Bautista said he was going home so he could train the next day during a visit, Rivera got mad and told him “No, no.” When Bautista said he would stay longer, his cousin said, “No, now you got to go. Bye.”
Bautista said his cousin always maintained his sense of humor. And he still motivates Bautista now.
“He always showed me (to) be happy for everything,” Bautista said.