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Colleges:

Tragedy inspires at OCC

May 18, 2009|By Barry Faulkner

Baseball is a game of failure, but college baseball isn’t supposed to come with tragedy.

The tragedy that befell the Orange Coast College baseball program this season — the death of redshirt sophomore catcher Jourdan Watanabe on Feb. 27 — brought sadness, a dose of cold, stark reality, and the lesson survivors hope to take from any fatality: that life is not to be taken for granted.

Pirates’ sophomore star Brett Wallach said Watanabe’s death also brought togetherness and a sense of purpose to this team (34-13), which will attempt to capture the program’s first state title since 1980 in the four-team state championship tournament Saturday through Monday in Fresno.

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“It makes you put a perspective on your life and how hard you really need to work for everything,” said Wallach, the Orange Empire Conference Player of the Year. “ You can’t take anything for granted. And if you want something, you’ve got to go out and get it.

“After what happened to Jourdan, we kind of came together as a team and I think we realized that we needed to take this thing seriously and do it for Jourdan.”

Wallach and his teammates, he said, think of Watanabe everyday, and reminders of the former all-conference performer, who was 20 when he died, are all around OCC’s Wendell Pickens Field.

Watanabe’s jersey No. 22 is painted in white on the green grass behind home plate and a six-foot-tall 22 is painted on the fence in foul territory in left field. There is also a JW rock formation set into the entranceway to the OCC bullpen, where players gather every day to pray, Wallach said.

Wallach, like his teammates, has 22 written on his cap. Some also wear wristbands with the No. 22 on them and most also feature black rubber wrist bracelets that honor Watanabe’s memory. Watanabe’s jersey is displayed on a hanger in the dugout every game.

“I think about it every day,” Wallach said of his late friend, who, he said, is the closest person to him to ever die. “To come out [to the field], that’s the first thing I think about really. It’s good memories, all the good memories. I didn’t really have any bad ones of him. Just playing with him and having fun out there. It’s all baseball stuff.”

Wallach said Watanabe’s memory also inspires the team on a daily basis.

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