In the off-season, Cooper Callison made a request to Sobrato High baseball coach Mitch Martinez that he wanted to play catcher in addition to filling his role as the ace pitcher this season. Martinez had just one stipulation: gain weight. If Callison was going to take on the demands of playing the two most physically taxing positions in the sport, he needed to get stronger.
And that’s exactly what Callison did. Callison, who weighed a scant 135 pounds a year ago, said he’s 153 pounds as of last week.
“He came back stronger than ever,” said Martinez, who is in his second season as the coach but fourth year overall at Sobrato, having coached the junior varsity team in 2016 and 2017. “Cooper is smart, athletic, crafty and understands how to pitch.”
The Bulldogs are expecting to move up in the Blossom Valley League Santa Teresa Division standings after finishing 6-8 in division play last season. Eight of the 16 players on the roster are juniors, including returning standouts like Callison, Justin Rashid and Josh Balderas. Those three, along with sophomore left-hander William Conn, are expected to pitch well and ultimately be the difference-makers in the Bulldogs making a potential move up in the standings. Callison said improved cohesion will also be a game-changer.
“I think our chemistry is a lot better,” said Callison, who was a Santa Teresa Division first team all-league player in 2018. “We’re closer this year and we all want to play for each other.”
Martinez said Balderas “sprouted” in the off-season to reach his current listed height of 6-foot-2. Rashid didn’t pitch much last year, but is expected to contribute in a big way this season, possibly in the closer’s role or as the No. 2 starter in the rotation. The 6-foot, 225-pound Rashid possesses a potent bat and plays third base when he’s not pitching. Conn, Balderas and senior Camden Redfield also have the ability to produce hits at any given moment.
“Camden Redfield is kind of the leader of the team,” Martinez said “He’s an all-around player and pretty much lights-out in the outfield with his speed and ability to track down balls. He’s the individual everyone kind of rallies around.”
Sobrato hasn’t made the Central Coast Section playoffs since 2008, a dubious streak the coaches and players hope to break this season. To achieve their goal of making the postseason, the Bulldogs most likely will have to win the Santa Teresa Division. Callison feels confident the team is strong enough to do just that. He’s shouldering some of the load—literally—by starting at least once a week and catching on most of the games he’s not pitching. With that comes a unique set of challenges.
After all, a typical start for Callison will involve anywhere from 70 to 100 pitches. Games are usually two to three days apart, which doesn’t give his right arm a lot of time to fully recover once he gets behind the plate. However, Callison seemingly has a disciplined regimen down to get his body recuperated as fast as possible.
“After I pitch, I ice my arm and take care of it by making sure not to use it a lot,” he said. “The next day I usually won’t throw at all. I’ll use resistance bands to help (alleviate) the stiffness and soreness. Then when it comes to game time and it’s time to catch, I make sure my warm-up is thorough but not too exhausting.”
Callison has been pitching and catching since age 8. Although he loves pitching, Callison said playing catcher is his favorite position. In the off-season, Callison knew he had to pack on some muscle to his frame to meet the physical demands of playing the battery positions. He followed a strength-training program from one of the seniors on last year’s team, and complemented that with extra caloric intake. When Callison saw some friends he hadn’t seen in a while near the beginning of the school year, they noticed his physical transformation.
“Some of them who hadn’t seen me in a while said I looked a little scarier,” he said.
NOTE: Sobrato plays crosstown rival Live Oak twice this season, a treat for local high school baseball fans since the squads don’t play in the same division. The first game is set for March 28 and the second for April 13, the latter being the Lace up for Pediatric Cancer game. The varsity plays at 11 a.m. and the junior varsity contest is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. In between the contests there will be a raffle and prize giveaways. Both teams will wear gold laces and do a fundraiser for local families in the area.
“They reach out to schools and charge $5 for gold shoelaces, and there is website for each team to raise money,” Martinez said. “I’m doing this because I have a family member dealing with this and the guy doing the fields for the school district has leukemia. We’ll partner up with Live Oak and sell t-shirts to help raise money for a great cause.”