May 23, 2009

Senior Day will also be Father's Day at UCSB

May 23, 2009

By MARK PATTON NEWS-PRESS SENIOR WRITER

John DeAlba is like any college athlete, forced to scrounge for enough time to crack open his school books.

But when he rushes home from UCSB's baseball field, it's usually not to work on his studies as a geography major.

"I try to get that done earlier in the day," said DeAlba, a senior outfielder. "But I do like to get home in time to help my kids with their homework."

DeAlba, it turns out, is not exactly like any college athlete.

At age 23, he is already the father of five children.

"A college baseball player with five kids? I'd never heard of that before," Gaucho coach Bob Brontsema said. "One kid, yes. Two kids? Maybe. But five?"

The three oldest children - Ernesto, Isaiah and Junior - are DeAlba's stepsons. He and his wife, Maria, also have two daughters, Nevaeh and Lenaiya.

For a long time, many of the Gauchos didn't even know that the corner outfield spots at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium were being patrolled by Papa John.

"From the baseball perspective, you'd never know that," Brontsema said. "He's always here. He never misses practices or games. There are never any issues about it.

"Well, I'm sure there are issues he has to deal with, but you never hear about them from him. I've probably missed more things because of my kids than he has."

DeAlba's bat doesn't miss the baseball much, either. His hitting numbers rank among the best on the team: A .323 batting average and .462 slugging percentage.

"His approach as a hitter is pretty much like his approach to everything," Brontsema said. "Very professional. Very quiet. Very planned. Very organized."

DeAlba prefers not to bring his home life to the diamond.

"When we talk about things around the dugout, I try to make it more about school stuff, and what's going on with the other guys," he said. "I want to fit in as much as possible.

"Baseball has always been a release for me, to be able to just enjoy what's going on out there. I don't have to worry about everything when I'm playing baseball."

DeAlba doesn't sleep in as much as a normal student.

"I'm usually up by 6, trying to get everybody ready for school and making sure they've gotten dressed and eaten their breakfast," he said. "I take two of my kids to Kellogg School, and then drop off one of my daughters at the Orphalia Children's Center at UCSB.

"I pick up my other daughter at Girls Inc. when I go home."

DeAlba said his teammates "go into shock" when they discover why he has to rush off after practice.

"They can't believe everything that goes on in a typical day for me," he said.

The DeAlbas do get some family support. John's father Greg ó a former football star at Dos Pueblos High, SBCC and Cal Poly - works two jobs to help them out. DeAlba's mother, Norma Koeteman, helps with the kids.

Student loans help pay the bills.

"We have just enough to get by," DeAlba said. "Sometimes I do feel kind of bad about it, because I could be working instead. The kids don't really enjoy the best of things because of it. But we do try to do a lot of fun things together."

He wants to make Sunday's Senior Day fun, too. Although the ceremony is designed to honor parents, DeAlba plans to also bring Maria and all five kids onto the field.

"They're the ones who've been with me throughout all this," he said.

His wife is also a student, studying psychology at SBCC. Maria did have to take a leave of absence this spring when 3-year-old Lenaiya had surgery to remove her tonsils.

DeAlba has had to overcome a few physical obstacles of his own. A rib-cage injury took him out of two weeks of action just before the start of this year's Big West Conference season. As a left-handed batter, he's been used mostly against only right-handed pitching ever since.

"He's one of our better hitters and he hasn't gotten as many at bats as we would've liked," Brontsema said. "He's in a group of about three-or-four really good players ó like Robby Cummings, Steve Cook, Ryan Tregoning and Mark Haddow ó who've been in and out of the lineup.

"I'm sure Johnny would like to play more against lefthanders, and he's done a good job against lefthanders, but he doesn't say boo about it. He just handles it, and I love that about him."

He was also limited to 38 games last year after breaking a bone in his wrist, finishing with a batting average of .297 and 14 extra-base hits.

The injury required surgery, costing DeAlba a summer season with the semi-pro Foresters that included a trip to Cuba as well as a role in the team's National Baseball Congress World Series championship.

But he simply put the time to good use, as always.

"I took a lot of units during both sessions of summer school, and it put me close enough to where I can now walk graduation this spring," DeAlba said. "I probably wouldn't be this close otherwise. Everything happens for a reason."

He starred at both Dos Pueblos High and Santa Barbara City College, earning Western State Conference MVP honors in 2007. But Brontsema admits that he really didn't have to recruit him.

"His circumstances kind of forced him to be here," Brontsema said. "We went out to City College and saw him play and really liked him, but we were expecting nothing. We got everything. We got it all from him.

"He's done a great job in the classroom. He's busted his tail on the field. He's been a team leader and a team player."

That became most evident last Sunday after DeAlba had been penciled into the lineup at UC Riverside. He pulled himself out, however, after learning that Cummings' father, Robert, would be returning home to Chicago after the game and be unable to attend this Sunday's Senior Day at UCSB.

"He knew it'd be the last time Robby's dad would ever get to see him play," Brontsema said. "While we were taking our starters around in batting practice, (assistant coach) Matt McColgan came up and said, 'I don't know how to handle this: Johnny just said that if we wanted to put Robby into the lineup, that he'd be OK with it.

"I told him, 'Well, then it's done.'"

Cummings responded to DeAlba's gesture by going 3-for-4 with two RBIs in a 6-4 Gaucho win.

"Not a lot of guys would've made that kind of sacrifice," Brontsema said.

But another father would.

Mark Patton's column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail: mpatton@newspress.com

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