Porterville, California —— “Be a dog, Z!”
If you went to a Porterville College baseball game the last two years, chances are you heard that phrase over and over again when Jordan Szolek stepped to the plate. The infielder from Bakersfield is finishing his sophomore season with the Pirates and will soon move on to the next baseball stop in his young life, but he’s already left a mark on Porterville with that well-deserved ‘dog’ mentality.
“My nickname to the guys is ‘bulldog,’” Szolek told Baseball Census after a recent Porterville College game on the road at Taft College. “They gave it to me ‘cause they said I’m the one guy that won’t back down from anything and I’m always getting my nose dirty.”
It’s the kind of explanation that’ll make you laugh, but Szolek fits it perfectly and wears it with pride. He’s a utility infielder who has played pretty much everywhere this year—a scrawny, undersized guy that overachieves in every area just to stay on the field with teammates and opponents always bigger and stronger. Oh, and he does it all while talking… and talking… and talking… and talking. To teammates, opponents, and anyone who will listen, Szolek’s on-field persona is social, and focused, and engaged.
“I like being on my toes,” Szolek explained about his vocal, high-energy game. “I’m not really a guy that’s quiet and sits down in the corner. I’m more of an amp-up guy and I use my words a lot, so I like bouncing around everywhere. I think that fits.”
It’s a wonder Szolek isn’t intimidated by some of the opponents Porterville has stared down this year, but when you peel back a layer or two of the onion, you find out why: for the past several summers, after his own baseball seasons had ended, Szolek went home to Bakersfield to be a batboy for the Bakersfield Blaze, the Seattle Mariners’ High-A affiliate in the California League until contraction at the end of the 2016 season.
And there it is: considering he spent all his free time in close quarters with some of the top pro baseball prospects destined for the big leagues, a Tuesday afternoon game against the College of the Sequoias doesn’t give the bulldog much pause.
“That was the best opportunity I’ve ever had in my life, to be honest, and for me to get paid to do it? I would have done that job for free,” Szolek said of his summers working as a batboy. “To be able to be around a pro clubhouse everyday, and have those guys show you that they actually care about you, and they want to take you in and help you and make you a better ballplayer? Every day that brought a spark to my eyes and every day, it made me think that I can make it.”
This, of course, is where reality sets in. Szolek isn’t destined for professional baseball, no matter how close the relationships he’s made with those who are, and he’s not even set to head off to a major Division I program where he can help a team to Omaha. Division II, or Division III, or the NAIA ranks are the places where Szolek fits, but when you put that into context in where he’s come from, it all comes together.
In his freshman year at Porterville, Szolek played sparingly and hit a meager .140/.213/.186 with eight strikeouts and just two walks in 14 games. Slug .186 in JuCo ball and it might be time to find something else to do, and yet Szolek, ever the bulldog, made some adjustments during his time as a batboy with the Blaze—working routinely in the batting cages with Mariners prospect Justin Seager—and he went back at it undaunted with the Pirates this year.
It paid off.
Related: Read our full 2017 Jordan Szolek scouting report
Szolek earned triple the playing time covering positions all across the diamond for Porterville College this spring, and slashed .248/.357/.278 with four doubles, ten walks, five stolen bases and 16 RBI for the Pirates. Nobody will confuse him for a power hitter, but Szolek raised his slash lines by more than 100 points across the board and took on the responsibility of super utility man—or, super utility bulldog—for a ball club that otherwise will wrap up a dismal spring season on Friday afternoon.
But true to his nickname and consistent with everything I’d ever seen of him as a batboy, you wouldn’t know the win/loss record if you watched Jordan Szolek play.
“We haven’t been at the top of very many games at all, and you see guys in the dugout and they are sulking, they are sitting down, but it’s a team game,” Szolek offered about how he sees it his role to keep the energy up mid-game. “It’s not an ‘I’ game. We’re all here fighting and grinding out at-bats, and fighting in the field to back up our pitchers, and everybody on the team needs to be up there on the fence so I really try to always get everybody going and get everybody up.”
Szolek is hinting around it, but to be blunt, this spring was tough on him, tough on his teammates, and tough on the Porterville College baseball program. The Pirates won two of their first five games… and then only won three more all year, at one point dropping 18 straight contests from February 25 through April 10. That’s brutal, to put a point on it, and it necessitated quite a few changes for the club.
One constant, though, was Jordan Szolek—consistently in the lineup, just at a new position every day. Second base, third base, the outfield, a day at shortstop—hell, stick him at first base and he’s bound to figure it all out there, too.
“I’m open to opportunity, and Coach [Ben Walkowiak] always tells me ‘you’re a utility guy, we don’t always know where you’re going to be,’” Szolek said. “It keeps my mind racing all the time, and I’m always on my toes in practice, always at a different spot. When game time comes, and I see my name in the lineup wherever I’m at, I know what job needs to get done.”
That fits Jordan Szolek, who speaks at a quickened pace with eyes that light up every time he talks. You almost get the feeling that he needs to be socializing with everyone—umpires, opponents, teammates, and the media—lest he wilt from boredom. Maybe it makes sense when you get to know his personality, and it’s easy to see why he was so successful as a batboy. But there’s a more practical reason Szolek reaches out to so many people during the course of a game.
“I use [my personality] to pick brains,” Szolek admitted. “I use it to gain more knowledge on the game. None of us know the game 100 percent. The more that you know, the more tips you can get, those little things get you by. We’re all at this level now where everything big is up to par, but it’s those little things that get you further than everybody else. I like to pick brains and get those little things.”
Wherever Jordan Szolek lands for the next two years of his career, he’ll keep doing what he’s always done—sticking his nose in everything, picking brains, playing everywhere, and talking, talking, talking.
The game just fits him that way.
Go be a dog, Z.
In this Jordan Szolek Porterville College feature:
Porterville College | College of the Sequoias | Taft College | Central Valley Conference | Bakersfield Blaze | Jordan Szolek
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