In just the second game of the 2022 season, Utah first basemen, Alex Baeza’s Rawlings glove ripped.
“I put everything into that glove,” Baeza told Block U recently. “I made sure I was conditioning it, making sure the laces were all nice, everything was good. When it gave out on me it was the second game of the season at LMU. The leather ripped and it wasn’t repairable.”
Baseball players are notoriously superstitious and tend to cling to whatever patterns, behavior, or equipment they perceive is helping them succeed. So you could imagine how this glove ripping was a devastating loss. It wasn’t just any glove. It was the glove he played most of his collegiate career with, including earning a Gold Glove award nomination in 2021.
“I was freaking out,” Baeza said. “One of my teammates had an Under Armour glove just sitting at the bottom of his bag so I used that and said, ‘Oh well, let’s see where this goes.’
Baeza went on to make history this season after being voted the best defensive first basemen in Division-I baseball and taking home the ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award. Baeza is the first Ute to be honored with this highly-esteemed recognition.
Having been nominated for the award in 2021 while playing at the University of Hawaii, Baeza knew he had a chance to take home the award with a solid showing this year.
“I really wanted to get a gold glove,” Baeza told Block U recently. “I’d been nominated before and I thought it’d be awesome to get one. When I saw that nomination, it was cool, but I didn’t really think I’d win it [over the other nominees]. Obviously, they had a great season too. When I first saw that I won, I was shocked but it was really cool. I had no idea that it was the first time in Utah history. That was really cool and really special for me.”
Baeza, 24, has been honing his craft since the early age of 5 or 6 years old when he started regularly playing first base. “There was something about being at first base and being closer to the action. I really gravitated toward that,” Baeza said.
At that early age, he and his dad would go out and practice playing first base. “My dad would stand halfway between short and second, and he would just fire balls in the dirt,” Baeza said. “After a few rounds of getting hit in the face, the arm, whatever, I kind of figured out how to read hops at a young age. I really didn’t like getting hit in the face with a baseball so I had to figure out a way to really see the ball coming in earlier and how to get it in the glove and not on me.”
Practice with his dad was a routine activity, “It’s as much his award as it is mine” Baeza said. “He was the one out there for years throwing his arm out, throwing balls in the dirt, hitting me fungos, ground balls, fly balls, everything.” The practice paid off as Baeza consistently made difficult plays look routine this year.
His highlight reel demonstrates an ability to make any play a first baseman could encounter, but his favorite plays are the ones that require a little more athleticism. “I like making a good pick,” he said. “but there are a lot of first basemen out there who can make a pick, so anytime I can go out there and show my range, like a fly ball down the right field line, or laying out in the 4-hole. Anything where I can showcase my range instead of just standing at the bag and picking the ball.”
In 505 fielding chances, Baeza made only one error in his Pac-12 All-Defensive Team campaign. This level of consistency at the first base position was an enormous benefit to the team and can often be taken for granted by fans and the media. It takes incredible skill and athleticism to be good enough at first base to be noticed for it. More often than not, first basemen are noticed when something goes wrong.
Baeza is unbothered by this reality, “On a day-to-day basis your [teammates] let you know”, he said. “Say your infielder makes a play, he lays out and makes a throw. It’s an insane play on his part, but he bounces the throw and you pick him up. Nobody really talks about that, but then you get that nod from your shortstop or your pitcher, a little fist bump. That’s pretty much all you need right there, knowing you helped them”.
A few weeks back, Baeza received an email inviting him to the MLB Draft League. The MLB Draft League is an invitation league where players receive visibility to MLB scouts. It provides an opportunity for players to showcase their ability and boost their stock in hopes of getting signed by a major league team.
Baeza was assigned to the Frederick Keys and will be playing there for the next 4 or 5 weeks. Through his first 11 games, Baeza is hitting .243 with a .693 OPS, 3 R, 5 RBI, 9 BB, and 5 SO.