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Back-to-school special

Kori Melo knows all about sacrifice. And while he leads the Merced College baseball team and most of Northern California in sacrifice bunts, it has nothing to do with that. Coming off of a section title with Buhach Colony's baseball team in 2004, Melo fully intended to continue his career in college.

He enrolled at Merced College, but never took the field.

"About halfway through the fall semester, my grades weren't coming out like they should have and and I was in a really bad place financially," Melo said. "I decided I'd be better off going to work.

"One job led to another, which led to another, and next thing I knew three years had gone by."

Baseball never left Melo's heart, but because he needed to work, the closest he could get was a slow-pitch softball league.

Ironically, softball ended up extending his time away from the game he loved.

"All those years I played baseball and I was fine," Melo said. "Then I play church-league softball and I blow out my knee on an innocent little play."

By the time Melo worked his knee back into shape, he'd gotten to a stable place financially.

As a 21-year-old freshman, he decided it was time to get back to school.

"Kori was a guy we recruited out of high school," Blue Devils coach Chris Pedretti said. "When he started talking about coming out again, I was excited -- but with so many years away from baseball, we didn't know what we were going to get."

What Pedretti got was every coach's dream: a kid who is grateful to take the field every day.

"Kori is the epitome of what we look for in a player," Pedretti said. "He shows up every day giving great effort and energy in practice.

"The fact that he's a little older, he has a little more focus than some of the 18-year-olds out there.

"He's a kid who has been working in the real world, so he's a little more appreciative."

Melo said he's playing the same way he always has, but he does make an effort to enjoy his time on the diamond.

"I missed baseball like you wouldn't believe," Melo said. "I try to convey it a little bit.

"I always have a smile on my face while we're out there, just little things like that."

His teammates have taken notice.

"Kori is a guy who always picks you up," shortstop Ben Gorang said. "He plays with a lot of intensity, but we still have a lot of fun out there."

Melo's work ethic and natural ability won him the starting job at second base.

And Pedretti's faith in him has been rewarded.

Melo's been a defensive stalwart for MC (16-5), committing just one error while hitting over .300.

Then there are the intangibles.

Melo leads the team with 13 sacrifices and has proven an adept base runner with five steals.

Despite all the work Melo has put in, the success he's enjoyed has surprised him.

"I wanted to have a good year this year and then have great year next year," Melo said. "I'd probably say I've exceeded my expectations a little bit."

More importantly, Melo's been able to leave the working world and just focus on school and baseball.

"I'm very happy to be back here," Melo said. "Being out in the work force and doing a 9-to-5 job every day, you understand the importance of education."