Craig Bettis was 10 years old the first time he grabbed a bat for the Merced Volunteers.
Coach Rollo Adams would let Bettis, who was the batboy at the time, make cameo appearances for the Volunteers on the field. Bettis even played some games in a Las Vegas tournament when the team was shorthanded.
Fast forward seven years and Bettis is now playing for the Volunteers. One could argue he’s the longest-tenured player in the history of the American Legion team.
“When I was 10 years old, I really bonded with Rollo,” Bettis said. “I knew once I got older I would get a chance to play for him. He’s a good coach, and he’s taught me a lot about baseball.”
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Bettis and the Volunteers begin their summer season today with a doubleheader against the host Fairfield Expos at noon.
The Volunteers are jumping right into their season with six games in three days. Merced will play four games in a Woodland tournament on Sunday and Monday.
“I’m looking for us to go out and play fundamental baseball,” Adams said. “I want our pitchers to throw strikes and work ahead in the count. When a team gives us an out, we need to take it. These games will give me an opportunity to see different combinations of players from the new schools.”
The Volunteers are comprised of players from Merced, Buhach Colony, El Capitan, Dos Palos and Le Grand high schools.
Bettis isn’t the only longtime Volunteer. Le Grand’s Carlo Del Real returns for his fourth season. The infielder/pitcher hit .507 for Le Grand this spring with 29 RBIs and was 7-2 with a 0.98 ERA on the mound.
Also returning is Dos Palos junior Efrain Del Rio, who hit .418 with nine home runs and 40 RBIs for the Broncos.
Other returning players include Merced’s Mitchell Miller and Josh May, and Buhach Colony’s Justin Prichard.
“We have players who can play multiple positions, which will give me the opportunity to move some guys around,” Adams said. “We have a very athletic group. We have some team speed, and with Efrain we have power. He led us with seven home runs last summer. Our lineup one through nine will be really solid.”
Other Volunteers include Merced’s Alex Ortega, Jeremy Mendoza, Evan Hanneman, Isidro Mendoza, Tanner Pellissier and Lawrence Anderson; Buhach Colony’s Brandon Esau, Kenneth Sellers, Austin Ekizian and Darin Dupont; and El Capitan’s Kobe Nguyen and Sai Davuluri.
After splitting time with the Atwater Aviators and Volunteers the past four summers, Adams will only coach the Volunteers this summer.
“The last four years took something away from the Vols,” Adams said. “Now I can be out there full time. Hopefully, we can get back to the state tournament and get that fourth state title. I wasn’t sure we were going to have a team this summer. I was ready to shut the program down, but now I have more kids than I know what to do with. The kids are excited, and I am excited, too.”