There was a time, however short, that Junior Delatorre could have walked away from baseball.
He thought he had a good thing at Winthrop out of Beaufort High School. He came on late as a strong, right-handed pitcher and thought he had earned a spot as a preferred walk-on.
But a coaching change at Winthrop left Delatorre and others without a place to play. He pondered his next move.
The answer was to keep throwing, to get stronger. He returned to Beaufort the following summer and pitched for American Legion Post 9 and 207, caught the eye of USC Beaufort coaches and joined the Sand Sharks that fall.
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Now Delatorre is in his second summer playing for the Valley Baseball League in Virginia, glad he stuck with the path he seemed destined to take.
The 21-year-old led the wooden-bat league with 32 strikeouts through Monday for the Aldie Senators, eight more than the next closest pitcher. He struck out 14 his second start, against the Strasburg Express.
"That year off kind of pushed me -- 'this could be it; this could be all,' " Delatorre said. "I think it benefited me a little bit more than if I had played. I got stronger, I kind of grew up."
Delatorre credits his chats with former USCB pitcher Michael Heesch, now in the Chicago Cubs organization, for leading his development.
When Heesch returned to the area this past fall, he sought out Delatorre and became his mentor, leading his workouts and helping mold the Sand Sharks' next top pitcher. Heesch told his former teammate the next two years were important in determining his possible future as a professional baseball player.
As a junior, Delatorre led USCB in starts, wins and strikeouts. He held opponents to a team-best .215 batting average and his 3.16 ERA was best on the team among those with at least 10 appearances.
Heesch and Delatorre have chatted before each of the student's starts this summer, laying out a strategy for each time through the lineup.
One of Heesch's primary lessons is for Delatorre to lean on his fastball. It was the fastball that helped him strike out 14 Express batters in only six innings on June 6.
Delatorre guessed he probably threw only three breaking pitches during the outing.
"He kind of really told me 'you pitch to your strengths before you pitch to their weaknesses,'" Delatorre said. "It kind of makes sense -- we kind of give hitters way too much credit. If they hit you three out of 10 times, they're a hall-of-famer, an all-American. He kind of emphasized that with me -- 'You're in control, Junior. Your stuff's good enough to get these guys out.' "
The recognition is coming.
Delatorre has heard from the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau. He seems a lock for the Valley Baseball League All-Star game in July.
He'll return to USCB in the fall ready for a final push, a long way from Winthrop and not bad for the kid who didn't commit to pitching until his junior year at Beaufort High.
He credits former Beaufort High baseball coaches Brook Dixon and Scott Mullen for pushing him early on. Delatorre's uncle, Art Smith, once played in the Valley Baseball League, was an Atlanta Braves draft pick and told Delatorre what was possible when he returned to American Legion that summer after Winthrop.
"I said 'yeah, not unless something crazy happens,' " Delatorre said. "Sure enough, a couple weeks later, I had a few calls and it all worked out. It's kind of a crazy story."
Follow assistant sports editor Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.