Manny Velazquez has been dynamic for Hixson High School baseball for the last four years.
With a smooth and natural line-drive stroke from the left side, Velazquez fit right at the top of the lineup from the get-go for Colton Green's program. While his role as the spark plug in the leadoff spot has not changed there has been a major addition to his game this season.
"Hitting is my favorite thing to do. I have always stayed aggressive at the plate and driven the ball, but I never had much power until this year," said Velazquez, who was at first a right handed hitter before getting comfortable from the left side when he tried switch hitting. "All of a sudden my slugging percentage has jumped way up. I had never hit the ball with lots of power ever. It's been a lot of fun seeing my power come to me and hitting the ball further than ever before."
Making a mistake to Velazquez has proven costly to many pitchers. Heading into Tuesday's game against Sale Creek he was batting .467 (28-for-60) with 13 of his hits going for extra bases, including two monster home runs that landed on the softball field. He also has eight stolen bases and consistently makes impressive plays at shortstop.
Getting to hit behind Velazquez has been a joy for teammate and best friend A.J. Wild, who has been a speed demon for Hixson as well with 15 stolen bases and a team-high 40 runs scored. From the on-deck circle, Wild has seen up close the damage the Wildcats' leadoff can do at the plate.
"Ever since he stepped up to the plate as a freshman I knew that anyone who threw the ball in the strike zone is going to be pretty upset when they face Manny," said Wild, who has been a solid hitter in the lineup along with Kane Johnson (.456, 33 RBIs), Jacob Tobias (.410, 35 RBIs), Cameron Butler and Brad Dossett. "He goes up there with the purpose of barreling the baseball. He destroys any ball he can reach. He's a phenomenon. I have spent a lot of time with him over the last four years and I couldn't ask for a greater teammate and friend."
Hixson continues a strong run as the program is 18-7 overall this season and 12-1 in District 6-AA play. In eight seasons under Green the Wildcats are now 139-82 with a 74-12 mark in league play and numerous district titles.
With Velazquez at the plate and in the field, the program certainly has a leader to rally around as the postseason nears.
"Manny is a tremendous player and everyone at the school and on the team loves him," Green said. "He lights up the clubhouse and is such a team-first player. To see him grow over the last four years has been a joy. At first he was mainly a singles guy who could stretch out doubles with his speed, but his power has really come on. He was already a really solid player, but with the power to hit it out now he is even more dangerous. We are lucky to have him."
Contact Patrick MacCoon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.