Nick La Face is locked in. At .404, the fifth-year catcher/designated hitter of the 29th-ranked UC San Diego baseball team is hitting over 150 points higher than a down 2013 campaign, and leads the entire California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) in slugging percentage, on-base percentage, walks and triples, while sitting second in batting average and RBI. After three CCAA regular-season titles, three CCAA tournament banners and being a redshirt member of the 2010 squad that finished as the national runner-up, La Face has done his part, and more, to help get the Tritons back into the postseason in his final go-around in college baseball.
“Nick went out this summer and really decided to stretch himself as a player and person,” says UCSD head coach Eric Newman. “It was the best thing he could have done for himself, and I think that experience has helped him a lot this year. Nick has really grown up as a leader and is providing the kind of leadership that every coach hopes to have on a team.”
At 17-10 overall and 13-7 in CCAA play, La Face's Tritons are currently holding onto the fourth and final qualifying spot for the 2014 CCAA Championship, and head into another key league series beginning Thursday night at home (6 p.m.) against fifth-place Cal State L.A. Having completed the winter quarter and in fact put the finishing touches on his undergraduate degree, La Face found some time last week during Spring Break to be our latest guest for Triton Q&A.
Q: You are at or near the top of the CCAA in several offensive categories like batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and walks. To what, if anything, can you attribute this incredible performance so far in your final college season? Anything in particular that you tried to focus on this past offseason?
LA FACE: I’m sort of shocked as anyone based on the first half I’m having thus far. I think there are a few things that have attributed to my performance. First, would be my faith. I feel really blessed for the opportunity I’ve be given to play every day on this team, surrounded by the coaching staff we have and the guys on this team. Sometimes, I look back on a particular game and I’m like, 'How did that happen?,' and I believe it’s through God’s blessings.
Another attribute is our coaching staff and the guys on this team. Our coaches have done a great job of preparing each of us, and my teammates are very helpful in terms of their support and their hitting knowledge like talking about opposing pitchers, their tendencies, and action of their pitches. Lastly, I would say my overall mindset has been different coming into this season. I’ve really tried to keep things simple, just focus on seeing the ball and taking my best swing. In the past, I feel like I’ve tried to do too much up there which has led to inconsistent quality at-bats. I also never look at my stats or talk about what I’m hitting or where I’m at in terms of conference categories. I’m just focusing on having a quality at-bat and passing the baton onto the next hitter in our lineup.
Q: Nick if I told you as you headed into this season with one career triple, that on April 1, you would be leading the CCAA in triples, what might you have said to me?
LA FACE: I’d say no way! Again, that is extremely shocking. The funny thing is, all the triples I’ve had would probably be singles if the opposing outfielders played the balls differently. They all tried to make some great catches and thankfully they got by them to become triples. I think they may have also tripped a couple times once they got up for me to make it all the way to third.
Q: After the season you had in 2013, are you playing this final year with a bit of a chip on your shoulder? A feeling that you need to prove yourself again to this league?
LA FACE: Last year was tough. My mentality was different and I was caught up in the wrong things. After having a decent sophomore year, I felt like I had to do more and perform even better in my junior year. I tried to force things at the plate. However, I wouldn’t say I’m playing with a chip on my shoulder or feel like I have to re-prove myself. Bad years happen. It’s important to learn from them and realize the changes you have to make. My focus this year is appreciation and enjoyment. This is my last year of college baseball and I want to enjoy it to the fullest. You can’t do that if you’re constantly worried about results or getting caught up in a bad game or a weekend of bad games. Last year, if I had a bad game, I was miserable to be around. This year, I’m going to have a positive mind-set no matter what. Each game, each at-bat, is a new season. I’m constantly trying to focus on having positive thoughts and controlling what I can control which is my attitude and being a good teammate. Everything else will take care of itself.
Q: How does your approach differ from when you are starting behind the plate to starting as the designated hitter? Do you feel any added pressure to lead from the dugout when you are in the DH role?
LA FACE: When I’m the DH, it is a little different than when I’m catching. As the DH, I am more aware of providing some of that positive energy in the dugout. I don’t think there’s added pressure, but I’m focused on cheering on the guys out in the field and calling out when a guy steals to help out Brett (Levy) when he’s behind the plate. When I’m catching, I’m more focused on our pitcher. When we get back in the dugout I have a conversation with him or with Coach Avila on what’s going on out there, maybe if I see something on how we can pitch a guy differently or what I liked about what he did in that last inning. I’m still cheering, but the bulk of my attention is on the pitcher and my defense.
Q: You and Spencer (Frazier) are the lone holdovers from the 2010 squad that was the last Triton team to get to Cary (North Carolina). What do you most try to convey to your current teammates about the atmosphere and spirit of that group and season?
LA FACE: Spencer more so than myself, embodies what made that 2010 team so special. He is our selfless leader and contributes so much to this team that isn’t fully appreciated or seen some of the time. We try and convey to this team that what made the 2010 team so great was the team chemistry and that everyday in practice or game, each guy did everything he could to help the team win. Whether that was have a quality, team at-bat, make quality pitches on the mound, cheer on the guys on the field, or help clean the field up after practice/game. Guys on that team didn’t take a day off during practice, they were constantly trying to get better and if any guy saw someone slacking, he wasn’t afraid to confront him about it. Also, most guys on that team put in a bunch of time before and after practice to get better as well. Therefore, we try to promote the message that your time as a college baseball player goes by fast so enjoy every minute of it and work as hard as you can to try and help this team win.
Q: You've seen a lot and experienced a lot in five years at UCSD. What is one memory that stands out above the rest?
LA FACE: I’d say the memory that stands out above the rest is seeing that 2010 team dog pile after recording the final out of the West Regional knowing that we were headed to Cary. Even though I wasn’t apart of the dog pile nor was I going to Cary, seeing those guys accomplish what we talked about so much that year brought me complete joy.
Q: Though Brett (Levy) generally catches him in games, as a catcher and a fifth-year senior leader on this team, talk a little bit about what you see out of right-hander Justin Donatella and the strides he has made between his freshman and sophomore seasons as a Triton. How good do you think he can be going forward?
LA FACE: Justin Donatella has grown a lot from his freshman year. Last year, I’d always get on him after he would throw a bad pitch in a bullpen or in a game because of the body language he would show. This year, he is so much more in control, so much more poised up there. Even if he doesn’t have his best stuff on a particular day, he has the same demeanor as he does when he’s feeling good and he’s got all four pitches working. He’s emerged as a leader on this team by the way he competes and works everyday. He’s courageous on the mound every Friday night and that permeates throughout our entire team.
Q: With the 2014 MLB season upon us, what's your prediction for your team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, coming off of that NL West pennant a year ago? Were you up in the middle of the night to watch that opener in Australia with the Diamondbacks?
LA FACE: I was absolutely up in the middle of the night for the Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks opener in Australia. Even though we had practice in the morning the next day, there was no way I was going to miss it. It was an awesome game and seeing them play in Australia was pretty cool. My predictions are that the Dodgers are going to win the division by five and half games and they’re going to win the World Series over the New York Yankees in seven games! You heard it here first!
Q: Again from a catcher's perspective, what makes Clayton Kershaw so difficult to face?
LA FACE: I think Clayton Kershaw is so difficult to face because he has four amazing pitches that he can throw at anytime in the count. They all look the same out of the hand and he does a great job of mixing them up. He tries not to fall into tendencies and even if he does and the hitter knows what’s coming, his pitches are so good that the hitter still has a tough time squaring them up.
Q: As a movie fan, what are some of your favorites? Any favorite actors? Do you have a top baseball movie?
LA FACE: Some of my favorite movies are Training Day, Tears of the Sun, The Other Guys and Lone Survivor. Some of my favorite actors are Denzel Washington, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. Top baseball movie for me is Bull Durham.
Q: You're a political science major at Warren College. When do you expect to get your degree, and what can you tell us about your plans for the future?
LA FACE: As of the end of this past winter quarter, I am a UCSD graduate with a degree in political science and a minor in education studies. My plans for the future consist of being in the classroom as a teacher or on the baseball field as a coach or maybe a combo of both. I haven’t decided if I want to coach in college or high school yet, but we’ll see what God has planned for me.
Q: You had to witness in person last May, Cal State Monterey Bay taking your CCAA title from you. How badly do you want to take it back and finish your Triton career where it started, atop this conference?
LA FACE: I badly want to take that conference title back to where it belongs. It was tough ending our season that way and I hope the guys that were there remember that feeling so that we do all that we can to not be in that situation again and stay hungry for a conference title.
Q: How would you like to see your career end? Does this squad have what it takes to make it back to Cary?
LA FACE: I would love to end my UCSD career with a national championship. I think this team has what it takes to make it back to Cary. However, that’s quite a ways away. We need to focus on taking it one game at a time and playing our style of baseball consistently.
Previous Triton Q&A Features
Emily McQuaid (Softball) March 27, 2014
Sarah Lizotte (Women's Water Polo) March 19, 2014
Nicholas Korth (Men's Swimming) March 2, 2014
Megan Perry (Women's Basketball) January 13, 2014
Sandy Hon (Women's Swimming) December 30, 2013
Drew Dyer (Men's Basketball) November 26, 2013
Kameron Cooper (Women's Volleyball) October 28, 2013
Rachel Leslie (Women's Soccer) October 9, 2013
Marie Diaz (Women's Cross Country/Track & Field) October 1, 2013
Joe Dietrich (Men's Water Polo) September 2, 2013
Josh Cohen (Men's Soccer) August 23, 2013
Sara McCutchan (Women's Volleyball) August 9, 2013
Kellen Levy (Men's Cross Country/Track & Field) July 26, 2013
Izzy Pozurama (Women's Soccer) July 8, 2013
Colin Truex (Women's Crew Head Coach) June 28, 2013