By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
A four-year varsity Palmer Bulldog hurler recently signed his national letter of intent at a junior college baseball powerhouse.
Jaden Lopez, a senior at Palmer, cited the overall program success and proximity to home as to why he signed to continue his playing career with Navarro College in Corsicana.
The Bulldogs have previously advanced to the JUCO World Series in 2011, ’13 and ’19, ultimately winning the title in 2011 and finishing third in 2019. Navarro College baseball won conference championships from 1994-98, as well as in 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019.
The baseball program has also won 30 or more games in 23 of the past 25 seasons, averaging 36 wins per season over that span.
“It was a great feeling [on campus] for me and my family,” Lopez told KBEC Sports. “They have a great program and great tradition, plus it just felt like home and is not very far from home, either. It is a great fit for me.”
So far this season, Lopez (1-0, 4.85 ERA) has recorded 4.1 innings of work on the bump, striking out seven and allowing three earned runs on two hits. The Bulldogs’ season was then put on hiatus by the UIL on Friday afternoon amid the COVID-19 breakout.
Lopez noted that third-year Palmer head baseball coach Joe Robinson has helped his growth “tremendously.”
“Coach Rob has helped me no matter what it is,” Lopez added. “He has helped me to be a better player on the field and a better person by helping me grow mentally through the game.”
Lopez, a four-year varsity letterman, finished his junior campaign with a 3-3 record. He recorded 35 strikeouts and a 5.76 ERA over 20.2 innings pitched.
During his sophomore season with the Bulldogs, Lopez tossed 31.1 innings and struck out 35 batters.
Robinson stated that Lopez is a “great kid” that works hard “in and out of the classroom.” He also applauded Lopez for his willingness to be a multisport athlete while in high school and called him a “cornerstone for our program.”
“I expect him to have a great year this year and he’ll be one of our top-end rotation pitchers,” Robinson said. “He will also play in a position and bat in the middle of the lineup. I expect for us to have a great year this year. We are bringing back a great senior class with a lot of experience and I think that is really going to pay off in the long run. We expect to win a district championship and make a deep run in the playoffs.”
Robinson added, “He was thrown into the fire and has exceeded my expectations, for sure. This is super special for him and he deserves it.”
As for Lopez, he encouraged younger Bulldog baseball players and student-athletes to “work hard every day.”
“[…] Freshman year, I started off as a freshman on varsity and it felt very surreal, to be honest. I never thought I would get to that point, but I just kept working hard and kept going and kept going even after I made it to that point.”
All photos by Fred Phipps/KBEC Sports
Fred Phipps/KBEC Sports contributed to this report.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith