By Liliana Marquez
The end of the game approached at Husky Park as Zachary Ashford scored a run in the bottom of the seventh inning to get East Los Angeles College closer to a South Coast Conference title.
The crowd cheered for him as his teammates congratulated him and patted him on the shoulders. Ashford, 20, is a sophomore right fielder for the ELAC baseball team.
What most people don’t know is that by playing baseball, Ashford is not only doing what he loves the most, but he is also honoring his grandfather, Carl Ashford, who passed away five years ago. For Ashford, his grandfather is his inspiration in life.
“Throughout my whole life he always told me that I had the tools and everything to get drafted and play for national baseball. Once he passed away I always kept trying to do that for him,” Ashford said.
His grandfather influenced him in different ways and always helped him to become a better person and athlete. “He helped me through everything, whether it was baseball or school, it didn’t matter. He always helped me with whatever I was struggling with,” Ashford said.
Losing his grandfather was difficult for Ashford, but he said that the love for the game, and the desire of honoring him helped him cope with the loss.
ELAC’s baseball team ended its regular season April 25, sweeping a three-game series against Los Angeles Harbor College. ELAC won the SCC title, sharing it with Cerritos and Long Beach City colleges, each finishing with 15-6 conference records.
As a result the Huskies qualified in the Southern California Regional Playoffs.
Baseball became a part of Ashford’s life thanks to both his late grandfather and his father who also played ball. At an early age, Ashford showed signs of greatness in baseball making it to the All-Star team every year in the Little and Pony leagues.
He also played with a National Travel Ball team, the ABD Tigers, participating in tournaments both in and out of state. Born and raised in Fontana, Ashford attended Chaffey College, but decided to leave after talking to an old high school coach about ELAC’s baseball team.
His first year in the ELAC baseball team was a challenge because he had to adjust to a different level of the game. “I had to get faster and stronger and learn from my mistakes more than I did in high school,” Ashford said.
ELAC Baseball Head Coach James Hines said that Ashford has sheen one of the team’s top two outfielders and that his strength has even his outstanding defense.
Hines also said that Ashford has some skills that he needs to take advantage of. “He needs to figure out what he is looking for and what he is trying to do at the plate. He is a guy who has a ton of untapped potential,” Hines said.
For Hines, Ashford is not consistent and has not been able to stick with the things that have made him successful. “At times he tries to do too much. Feeling relaxed would probably help him swing a lot better and recognize pitches a little bit more,” Hines said.
Hines said that once Ashford figures those things out, he can become a very predominant player. Ashford said that he gets anxious because he always wants to do his best on the field.
Ashford tries to relax and take deep breaths to calm himself and improve his performance. Teammate Kevin Rodriguez said Ashford is a good player who gives 100 percent every game and practice, but agrees with Hines.
Rodriguez said that sometimes Ashford’s mind can prevent him from performing well. “He thinks too much and when he gets in the wrong mindset, he starts to struggle. That’s not good for him,” Rodriguez said.
Friend and teammate Daniel Dominguez said that Ashford is a good athlete who works hard and loves the sport. Dominguez also said that Ashford is a friendly, easy going and funny person off the field.
Ashford attended Chino High School, where he played baseball for three years. He played as third baseman in the Junior Varsity team during his freshman and sophomore years.
He then played for the varsity team as a first baseman during his senior year (2011-12). Ashford had decided to quit baseball during his junior year. He said that making that decision was very difficult for him.
“I quit because I came back from football and the coach wasn’t even going to look at me to play varsity,” Ashford said. Although he said that this decision changed his life, he regrets not staying.
“I had to rethink and look back on stuff. That’s when I realized I had to change my mindset. That has helped me a lot since then,” Ashford said.
Besides playing baseball he also played football for three years in high school, but an injury stopped him from playing part of his freshman year.
Ashford broke his collarbone during a Physical Education baseball class. It took him almost four months to recover and he ended up missing the rest of the football season
“We were playing a game. I dove and landed on my shoulder and my collar bone snapped. I had to go tell my football coach and he was very pissed,” Ashford said.
He couldn’t try out for the baseball team after that and was forced to wait after tryouts to play again. “It was hard just sitting there, watching everybody play and I still had to sit out for another two months,” Ashford said.
“I was bored to be sitting in the dugout. I couldn’t swing, throw or do anything,” he said. He recovered and the following year became captain of the JV baseball team.
During the time he played for his high school, Ashford was a letterman twice in football and once in baseball. At ELAC, Ashford decided that he only wanted to focus on baseball. Ashford said he would like to become a California Highway Patrol officer or a police officer.
Becoming a professional baseball player has always been his dream. Ashford said that he would play for any team, but his dream team is the Angels. Hines said that Ashford has the potential to become a pro.
“He’s got the measurables that a lot of people don’t have, being 6’4. Having a body where you can still fill in a lot more with muscle and some weight,” Hines said. He also added that Ashford’s bat speed is good, but it can get better along with his swings.
“A lot of that is going to go with his mentality and his willingness to get consistent and to go that extra mile. Then the consistency will start to be there and he will start to open a lot more eyes.” Hines said.
After the season ends, Ashford wants to find a school that would be a good fit for him, so he can play for another two years and hopefully get drafted.