JUSTIN JAMES ASPIRES TO PRO
Just like the team he plays on—Sacramento City College—Justin James is a work in
progress. The SCC Panthers (18-15, 9-10 in Big 8) won a tight ballgame yesterday over American
River College, 6-5, improving their chances to qualify for the upcoming
state community college playoffs.
James, by contrast, didn't have one of his better days. The
Panthers top hitter (coming into the game with a .333 average) went 0-3, striking out
The sophomore right fielder has garnered attention from the
local birddogs principally for two reasons: he is a 6'5", 230-pound left-handed hitting
outfielder and the oldest son of Dion James, the McClatchy High standout who enjoyed an 11-year career in
the major leagues.
On top of that, he is a well-spoken, team-first type player, who
has tremendous potential, says Panthers' head coach, Andy McKay. "Obviously, he has a
high upside in terms of his athleticism. I expect him to sign a professional contract and give
it a good run working through a minor league system."
Unlike his father, at Kennedy High School James was best known
for his basketball prowess, once scoring 27 points in the fourth quarter to help his team
overcome a 20-point deficit for the win. He didn't even play baseball his senior season, after
compiling a combined 99 at bats in his junior and sophomore years, where he hit for a .444
James enrolled at Sac City to play basketball, but when that
didn't pan out he decided to give baseball another try. Most kids wouldn't stand a chance of
making the Panthers, which features one of the most competitive baseball programs in the
state. But Justin James isn't "most kids."
In high school, he demonstrated talents outside of athletics. He
made the honor roll all four years at Kennedy while playing the saxophone in the school
marching band. His passion for music continues, as he records songs on a synth keyboard in his
Moreover, he (and younger brothers Jared, a junior on the McClatchy High baseball team and
Jarvis) have the unusual advantage of being
mentored by a former big league player.
After making All-City his senior season at McClatchy High
(batting .382), Dion was drafted in the first round (25th overall) of the 1980 MLB June
Amateur Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. In his first full MLB season, he hit .295 for the
Brewers. In 1987, as a 24-year-old, he hit .312 with the Atlanta Braves. In 11 years, Dion James
compiled a .288 average with four clubs, ending his career with the New York Yankees in 1996 as
they began their historic championship run (Dion wasn't on the playoff roster). In
the BaseballSacramento.com All-Time Top 50, Dion was selected 26th overall.
Justin shrugs when asked if it's tough growing up the son
of a former major leaguer. "But I don't know anything else," he points out. "Obviously, it helps
me in practice, talking about the games and stuff."
Justin says his father has imparted some valuable advice. Such
as, when he's up at the plate, "Getting an inward turn, showing your butt cheeks to the pitcher
to get more power and leverage into your swing." In terms of outfield tips, the father
counseled when fielding a "do or die" grounder be sure the button on top of the cap is "level
(sic) with the ground," forcing the fielder's eyes to focus on the
James fouls off a pitch in the game at home against American River
Asked if he has a favorite MLB team, Justin James says if forced
to choose it would be the Yankees. His favorite big league player is a different story,
quickly citing Ken Griffey Junior. "Back in the
day, (Griffey Jr.) wore his hat backwards during the Home Run Derby. That made me think he
was cool," James says, which explains his uniform number 24 at Sac
Unlike his idol, James has yet to put up the power numbers
scouts expect from a talent with a Frank Thomas-type body frame. In fact, this year Justin has
yet to hit a home run. Asked to explain the power vacuum, he doesn't lean on the excuse
that the new BBCOR bats have negatively impacted his output. In the Big 8 Conference,
the leading home run hitters have only two home runs. What does it take to
hit one out of Union Stadium, where it's 375 in the power alleys and 415 to dead center? "Just
get a good pitch, and let it fly," James laughs.
Justin knows he has much to work on, and enjoys working
at it. He calls his Panther teammates "a good group of guys, who are pretty talented.
We're all one unit."
James concentrates while fielding a routine base hit to right
Coach McKay offers that James "has played very well and very
consistently from the beginning (2010 season). He's a kid who hasn't played a lot of baseball.
He just needs to play as many games as he can."
Justin James is hoping that after the MLB draft in June, he'll
realize his dream and begin playing many professional games en route to a major league career,
following in the footsteps of his father, Dion.
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