SHENANDOAH JUNCTION – As a southern California native with little experience enduring bitterly cold conditions, this past winter in upstate New York was especially hard on Justin Esquerra.
But the onslaught of snow, ice and frigid weather across the Eastern seaboard subsided without any lasting effect on the talented third baseman.
Almost no one has been hotter at the plate recently than the Charles Town Cannons infielder charged with holding things down at, of all things, the hot corner position.
As of press time Tuesday, Esquerra was riding a 10-game hitting streak, including knocking multiple hits during each of the past four outings. The rising senior accounting major from Siena College near Albany leads the Cannons in hitting with a .357 batting average, and his .414 batting average during the past seven days ranks seventh overall in the Valley Baseball League.
“He was a little rusty his first week or two in, but he’s worked out the kinks,” said Charles Town manager Brett Fuller. “He is swinging a very hot bat. I can’t emphasize enough how hot he’s been in the last week and a half.”
A 6-1, 195-pound San Diego-native, Esquerra joined the Siena baseball program last fall after playing two years at San Diego Mesa Junior College in the southern California sun. He was initially greeted by a harsh upstate New York winter that eventually melted away as the Saints were heating up the diamond en route to a berth in the NCAA Division I regional tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, against perennial powerhouse TCU, among others.
But before Esquerra was headed for Division I collegiate baseball at Siena or even destined for a summer roster slot in the Valley League, the largely unheralded high school recruit who’d opted to play at a local junior college found himself at the end of his second season at San Diego Mesa exploring his options.
He had moved around a bit in the batting lineup during his first year in junior college, including seeing some time hitting in the leadoff spot. But by his second year, Esquerra had established himself as a mainstay at both third base and No. 3 in the batting order.
“It was pretty stressful early last summer,” Esquerra said. “I didn’t know where I was going to go. I had sent out some videos during the season. I got a call from my coach now (at Siena) saying they were interested and they wanted to make me an offer with a scholarship. It just went from there.”
“That’s why I went to JUCO,” he continued. “To have a better opportunity. It paid off well.”
Esquerra said the fact that San Diego Mesa had sent a pitcher to Siena a few years earlier – a player eventually selected in the first-year Major League Baseball draft – greased the wheels a bit and established a pipeline between the programs.
Esquerra said he had traveled to New York City as part of a field trip during eighth grade, and he recalled seeing snow first-hand for the only time in his life at age 6. But as the fall practice season came to a halt in upstate New York, he found himself first intrigued and later fatigued by the seemingly incessant winter weather.
“It was a tough winter,” Esquerra said. “I got really excited the first time it snowed actually. I was really pumped. I hadn’t seen it in such a long time. That definitely wore off, though, as the months went on and it got closer to Christmas. I was looking forward to going back home and the weather.
“I had a nice little break,” he continued. “I didn’t know the winter was going to last that long. But everyone was saying that that was the worst it’s been in a while.”
Siena started the season losing its first 17 games but enjoyed most of that time playing in warmer climes in South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. But despite the blustery conditions outside, the Saints began to play well when they opened their conference schedule and cruised to a postseason league tournament championship.
The road there was interesting, however.
“I remember one game we were going to, we showed up on a bus and they were chipping ice off the warning track,” Esquerra said of a March game against Marist. “That’s how cold it was before the game. It was ridiculous. I was thinking, ‘what have I gotten myself into?’”
Esquerra started all 60 games for Siena and batted .290 with a pair of home runs.
Siena won its first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament title in many years and later defeated Dallas Baptist in extra innings during the NCAA regional tournament at TCU. It was the first NCAA baseball tournament victory in school history.
Siena dropped a game 2-1 to a nationally-ranked TCU program in extra innings before being ousted following a loss to Sam Houston State.
“The facilities were really nice, and they treated us well,” Esquerra said. “It was really fun and a good experience.”
While playing for the Cannons this summer, Esquerra is staying with host family Ed and Gail Boober.
He said he enjoyed a recent visit to Harpers Ferry, but with a demanding baseball schedule he hasn’t had time to do much else.
“I wake up, go lift, come back and get ready to do it again,” Esquerra said. “We don’t have many days off, but when we do I’m going to take advantage of them.”
“It’s been fun,” he continued. “We’ve got a great group of guys. I’m seeing the ball well. I like that every day we have a game so everything is new. I love that about it. All the bus rides, too. That’s one of my favorite parts.”
Fuller said Esquerra has led by example through his play both in the field and at the plate.
“He’s very solid defensively, and he’s a quiet leader,” Fuller said. “He can swing it, and he can pick it.”