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Omaha on Cota's mind

February 22, 2002|By ERIC GALVAN

Sports Writer

SAN DIEGO — Since Calexico native Carlo Cota's been playing baseball at San Diego State University, he's been to his share of cities throughout the country.

He even mixed in a trip to Australia earlier this year.

No matter where Cota has played, there's still one trip that's eluded the senior second baseman since he's been an Aztec — a trip to Omaha, Neb.

While Omaha isn't normally a popular travel destination, going to Omaha would mean the Aztecs had earned a spot in the College World Series.


Through 12 games this season, SDSU is 8-4 and could make a run at a Mountain West Conference title and a berth at the College World Series.

"Whenever I'm batting, if I'm 0-for-3 and I go up to the plate, I always think that chances are I'm gonna get a hit. Looking at everything, the probability is that I will get a hit. That's how I look at this situation," said the 21-year-old Cota, a 1998 graduate of Calexico High. "The way I look at is I'm 0-for-3 when it comes to getting to the World Series, so I'm approaching that and the whole season as if it's an at-bat."

But the College World Series is still a few months away and Cota would rather focus on the task at hand — a showdown in Yuma against the University of Nevada, Reno.

For SDSU it's just a three-game series beginning today, but for Cota, it's a bit of a homecoming.

"Here (in San Diego) I have family that come out to games and watch, so playing out there, I'll be able to play in front of friends and ex-coaches also," said the 5-foot-10 Cota. "Playing out there does remind me of home. Even though it's not, I mean, just the area, the weather really does remind me of home."

He said the Yuma public address announcer lets fans know Cota is an area product.

"The last few times that we've played there, every time I go up to bat they'll introduce me saying where I'm from and kind of make a big deal about it. And they don't do that with any of the other guys," said Cota. "So some of the guys kind of tease me about that. But it's all in good fun, though."

During his freshman year at SDSU, Cota had one of his most memorable collegiate moments playing in Yuma.

Taking on the San Diego Padres' future stars team, Cota and his teammates were graced by the presence of former Padre and future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who played with the Aztecs in that game.

What made things even more special wasn't just that Gwynn suited up as a teammate of Cota, but he batted third, right behind Cota in the order.

"That was actually the first time I got to meet him. It was cool playing with him on the team as a teammate. I went up there and got a hit, then he batted right after me and also got a hit, so that was just a great experience," Cota said.

Instead of playing alongside Gwynn for just that one game, Cota and his teammates now get to see the eight-time National League batting champion on a daily basis. In the fall Gwynn was named to the Aztecs' coaching staff and will succeed current SDSU skipper Jim Dietz as manager in 2003.

"When we first heard about that everyone on the team was just super excited. With him out there, he's giving us a major league perspective on the game," Cota said. "At first I think some of the guys were a little gun shy and maybe intimidated because it is Tony Gwynn, but now he's like one of the boys.

"He's a real down-to-earth guy and I think he's really made this season a lot more fun. It's just awesome sitting next to him and talking to him about different things aside from baseball."

Cota said Gwynn isn't trying to make drastic adjustments to anyone's swing and is only tweaking little things, making subtle adjustments.

Cota said he has noticed differences in his at-bats and is able to hit the ball on the sweet spot of the bat more regularly. Cota is batting .348 with 16 hits and 24 total bases this year.

Like last year, Cota will be asked to help lead the team on defense and provide some senior leadership for the younger players.

"I think we have a lot of veteran experience on this team, so it's not just one person that has to be the leader, we have a bunch of leaders on the team," he said. "Last year Coach Dietz talked to me about producing and being a leader. But this year he really hasn't had to. I think this year it's just kind of implied.

"All the upperclassmen got together and had a team meeting and we talked about our team goals and talked about getting our work done," Cota said.

Among the goals Cota and his teammates have set are winning the conference title, going to the regional playoffs and making it to the College World Series.

"My goals, individually, are the same as the team goals. I mean, I really want to go to Omaha. With the team we have, I honestly think we can do it."

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