The Coast News Group

Jay Paris: Spring and hope is in the air for San Dieguito Academy baseball

At San Dieguito Academy, 8 plus 9 somehow comes to 48.

We can’t figure how those smarty-pants in Encinitas got this answer either. So we’ll ask new baseball coach Carlos Fletes.

“All I know is it is a good thing,’’ he said.

Thanks, Coach. We’ll take it from here.

Fletes is fresh to a program, which had grown stale. In the two previous seasons, the baseball bunch had spit out but 17 victories and that’s about as fun as sucking on a rotten sunflower seed.

So the athletic department shook things up, with Fletes arriving at SDA. And despite the rare victories falling the Mustangs’ way of late, the program is 48 players strong. Even a freshman team was formed; a clear sign things are on the upswing.

After years of coaching travel ball — he was an Oceanside High assistant last season — Fletes saddled up to the challenge that is SDA baseball.

“I thought I would love to get into a high school and try and start a program,’’ he said.

That has him at SDA, which is far from the new kid on the base paths as it enters its eighth decade. But its baseball team had fallen on hard times, which supplied a soft landing for Fletes.

“It’s a ton of work, which is great,’’ said Fletes, a Vista resident. “But you have to put the time into it and have fun.’’

If your idea of laughs is manicuring a baseball field, you have a kindred spirit in Fletes.

He’s as meticulous about the Mustangs’ infield as he is in constructing a lineup.

Having a first-class diamond just might turn this program into a gem. It’s a start, if nothing else, as Fletes tries to flip the persona of a team that is best known for sharing the area with prep powerhouse La Costa Canyon.

“When people come in and look at our facility, I want them to say ‘SDA takes care of its field and its players are ready to rock and roll.’ We want to have some pride in what do around here.’’

Fletes, 39, has been here and back again in his baseball journey.

He was a four-year infield starter for Vista High’s Butch Smith, winning a CIF title in 1993. Then it was two years at Palomar College where he picked legendary coach Bob Vetter’s brain, before finishing his career at Chico State.

In Northern California, Fletes won another championship of the Division II variety. He played for Lindsay Meggs, now the University of Washington’s coach.

Fletes was a steady player and could read more than a pitch tumbling toward the plate. While some suggested he play professionally after college, he instead got his degree and started coaching.

But there was one school Fletes attended where he didn’t wear cleats: The School of Hard Knocks.

The personable Fletes admits he let his high-school grades slide during the critical time universities were elevating players. While he was tiptop on the field, he was tiptoeing around his books.

“That took away some opportunities from me,’’ he said. “I just didn’t know how to study. But it was all part of the process and the learning experience for me.’’

Fletes’ candid story is refreshing and one that should resonate with teenagers, even ones at a school known for its academic prowess. While scouts and recruiters eye the batting average and earned run average, the players can’t overlook their grade point average.

Fletes is preaching that — as much as how to go from first to third on a base hit to the outfield. If these kids are as smart as we think they are, they’re listening.

“That’s what I love about SDA, is it’s all about education,’’ Fletes said.

With Fletes adding the baseball part and a mantra that it’s about the name on the front of the players’ jersey.

“We want to play hard and respect the game,’’ he said. “To know that there are going to be days that are hard, but no matter what, have pride for playing for San Dieguito. Work hard not only for yourself, but your parents and your teammates.

“The whole thing is changing the culture here and how the players go about their business.’’

After a difficult time deciphering how 8 and 9 equal 48, it’s starting to come together. Fletes is resurrecting SDA baseball, with a formula of blood, sweat and cheers.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.