Participating in one varsity sport is enough for most high school students.
But most kids aren’t like Ruben Estrada.
The Payson High sophomore is juggling the demands of schoolwork with playing a key role on the baseball team and also running on the track team.
Schedule conflicts make it impossible to be at every practice and every game and meet for both sports, so Estrada chooses baseball in those instances.
“Baseball’s always my first thing right now, but track’s a good experience,” he said. “It’s not like it’s bad for me. It just helps me gain speed. It’s really just something I’m having fun with.”
It was track coach Jonathan Ball who approached Estrada about joining the track team this year.
“I never ran track, but it just sounded like fun,” Estrada said. “I mean, if it’s going to help me stay in shape and gain speed and I can do both, I didn’t see why not.”
He’s had to figure things out as he’s gone along.
“There was one day where we had a pretty big game the next day, so we were having a pre-game practice,” Estrada said. “And we had a track meet in Payson (earlier) that day and I wasn’t sure if I was going to go to it because I didn’t want to pull a muscle or something right before a game.
“But I can’t think like that if I’m going to do both sports. So I went to track. I went and I still made practice.”
He wishes he could make more track meets and practices.
“There’s been times when I really want to go to track, but I can’t miss practice,” he said.
Estrada is a valuable member of the baseball team. After earning a varsity letter as a freshman outfielder, he is the Longhorns’ leadoff hitter this season. And he’s just as valuable defensively because he plays all over the field. He’s played in both corner outfield positions, as well as at catcher, second base, third base and shortstop.
“Ruben is a natural athlete that is just willing to do anything to help his team win,” said varsity baseball coach Brian Young. “He never complains about what position we have him in and just wants to be on the field contributing.
“Ruben is our hybrid athlete — he basically will fill in any spot depending on who is pitching. That gives us a lot of flexibility to not have to change the lineup every game because you need a certain strength to replace your pitcher’s fielding spot.
“Not only can he move all over the field, he can play each spot at a very high level. If we didn’t have so many other good pitchers, he would pitch for us as well, but he will mostly have to wait until next year to do that.”
And he’s ignited PHS’s explosive offense.
“He has set the table for our lineup,” Young said. “He is a tough first out to get in the first inning and is just as good of a hitter with two strikes as he is when he has an advantage in the count. He can run bases well and is a threat to steal a base.”
An example of his value to the offense came in the 10th inning of the Longhorns’ game at Snowflake. He led off the 10th by reaching base, was bunted to second and scored what proved to be the winning run on a Nick McMullen single.
Young said he wasn’t sure participating in two sports at the same time was wise when Estrada proposed the idea. “He asked about running track in the off season and I was a little skeptical at first, just because you don’t know how much stress a player’s body can take as we are already grinding through a 30-game schedule in a fairly short amount of time,” Young said. “With Ruben you trust him because he is in such good shape and will take care of himself.”
Ball said Estrada doesn’t have much free time. “He’s a busy kid trying to shuffle all this stuff,” Ball said.
Ball would love to have Estrada available at every practice and every meet. But he’s OK with utilizing him when he can show up.
“I don’t know how many more meets he’s going to get to because of schedule conflicts, but when he gets a chance we’re going to use him,” Ball said.
Ball said it’s a new situation for him.
“This is the first time I’ve had a kid try to do it,” Ball said. “But I know they run a lot in baseball. We ran our fastest 4x100 with him. He is a big boost to our team. Athletically, he’s there. He’s a good locker room guy; a good clubhouse guy. The kids like him. There’s a void when he’s not there.”
Baseball teammate Nick McMullen said he and the rest of the team and the coaching staff are pulling for Estrada.
“I feel coach Young is 100 percent in support of kids going out and doing what they love and Ruben’s a successful athlete all around and he shouldn’t be limited to just baseball,” McMullen said. “He needs to do what he loves.”
The senior first baseman said he’s impressed with Estrada taking on such a challenge.
“It’s impressive because it’s a big-time commitment playing one sport,” McMullen said. “Playing two sports in one season is a huge commitment and one not many kids are willing to make. So that says a lot about his character, too.”
His involvement in track hasn’t taken away from his commitment to the baseball team.
“Gosh, most of the time I don’t even realize he’s doing track because he’s around so much,” McMullen said. “He does so much with the team. If I could pick one person out that’s most involved with the team and the most supportive it would be Ruben.”
The coach for Estrada’s club baseball team in the summer also takes advantage of his ability to play all over the diamond. And that’s something Estrada takes pride in.
“That’s something that coaches always tell me that they love about me,” he said. “On my club ball team, my coach says he loves me because he can put me anywhere without having to think about it too much.”