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Sonora's Rosander earns his place in spotlight
Jake Rosander thumbs through the March 8 edition of the Orange County Register and grabs the Sports section.
Atop the page, occupying nearly the entire space above the fold, is a photo of him jumping into the side of Sonora High teammate Christian Miller. He’s jubilant in the photo, screaming with joy.
“Showtime,” the headline reads.
A reserve for much of the basketball season, imagine Rosander’s surprise.
Instead of seeing a photo of Ben Rico, Josh Rodriguez, Christian Rhodes or any other Sonora starter, the first thing readers see on March 8 is a photo of him – him – celebrating Sonora’s 66-54 victory in the CIF-SS Division 3AA championship game.
“I’m one of the best bench players you’ll ever see,” Rosander joked last week. “ ... Seeing that photo made my year.”
Basketball is Rosander’s second love. His first, baseball, is what he lives for.
One of the leading and most feared hitters in Orange County, Rosander is as indispensable on the diamond as he believes he is inconsequential on the hardwood.
“He’s a quiet leader,” longtime Sonora baseball coach Patrick Tellers said. “He’s used to competition. He plays basketball, which is another sport to compete in. That experience helps. He knows what it takes to get deep in the playoffs, to win league championships.
“He has that desire, and the underclassmen, they like that.”
The toy brand Little Tikes made a killing off of the Rosander family.
The only child of former high school athletes, Rosander remembers growing up in Fullerton swinging oversized plastic bats at large plastic balls resting atop plastic tees. He remembers attending Dodgers games and wearing the miniature batting helmet in which ice cream is served.
A Little Leaguer through middle school, Rosander pitched often, intimidating batters with the build of a kid twice his age. He also raked at the plate.
Baseball. Baseball. Baseball.
Rosander joined his maiden travel baseball team as a preteen, eventually playing year-round for teams in Costa Mesa and Anaheim. He patrolled the outfield and moonlighted at first base. He dealt with failures and shortcomings. But he never could get enough.
“You can’t get better if you’re only playing three months a year,” he said. “Playing travel ball was great exposure. I always wanted more reps. It’s not like you can get worse if you play more. Baseball is an experience. You experience everything in baseball.”
Tellers saw Rosander’s talent and potential in 2011, when Rosander arrived at Sonora. His strength, good for a freshman. His speed, above average. He had good mechanics, a superb feel for the game and athleticism to burn.
Tellers stashed Rosander on junior varsity in 2012, while his varsity team won 16 games and finished second to La Habra High in the Freeway League.
“We knew, him coming in, that he was a special kid, a special talent,” Tellers said.
Rosander credits former Sonora letter winner Brandon Chandler for showing him the ropes.
Promoted to varsity the summer before his sophomore year, Rosander sought advice from returners and upperclassmen alike. Chandler, a senior in 2013, became a mentor of sorts.
Rosander recalls Chandler telling him to never regret anything, for a season goes by fast and a varsity career, even faster. Rosander didn’t care to disappoint.
In 19 games, Rosander hit .259 in 27 at-bats, his offensive numbers becoming of a reserve outfielder in his first varsity season. But Sonora won 23 games, including two playoff games, and the Freeway League championship – invaluable game experience for Rosander and his classmates.
“The mental part of the game is so grueling,” he said. “It takes a toll on you. There’s a reason why the baseball season is so long. Trying to hit a round ball with a round bat is one of the hardest things to do in sports.”
Rosander became a starter his junior year, beginning the season in left field while also hitting in the heart of Tellers’ batting order.
His range shrunk the outfield gaps, and though not on par with other, elite varsity outfielders, his arm strength got him by. Whatever Rosander lacked in velocity, he made up for in smarts and savvy positioning.
Sonora last season again won the Freeway League championship, running the table. Rosander, meanwhile, hit .308, with hitting streaks of eight and five games. He hit his first career home run late in the season, against Sunny Hills.
For the second time in as many years, Sonora advanced to the Division 4 quarterfinals, where it lost, 5-3, to Laguna Beach High. Rosander received second-team All-Freeway League laurels at season's end.
Tellers this past offseason made the decision to remove Rosander from the outfield.
Still concerned about his arm strength, Tellers believed his senior-to-be would benefit greatly in the future from a season at first base. Rosander accepted the challenge.
Before taking the field this spring, Rosander played out his second varsity basketball season. Sonora captured its first CIF basketball title since 1983, with Rico, Rodriguez and Rhodes the main contributors. Rosander came off the bench, but cheered like no tomorrow for his teammates.
He returned to his haven shortly after the winter season.
Rico, Rodriguez and Rhodes now are staples at Sonora baseball games.
“When I was on the bench, watching (them), I know it pumped them up seeing me losing it on the bench,” Rosander said. “Now I’m not on the bench, and they’re watching me, they’re cheering. That makes me want to fight for them. It feels good knowing they’re there, supporting me like I supported them.”
Tellers said Rosander is still learning his new position: the shifts, the bunt coverages and the like. But he has good mechanics and a fundamental understanding of the game. Rosander, Tellers said, works on the things he doesn’t do well. He’s always making adjustments.
Offensively, Rosander is a middle-of-the-order masher. Pitchers stay away from the inside of the plate, fearful of Rosander’s quick hands and strength. Instead, he feasts on a steady diet of outside, off-speed pitches. Rosander, as a result, often falls behind in counts, Tellers said. An unfavorable habit.
“It doesn’t matter what a pitcher throws me,” Rosander contests, “I’ve seen everything.”
Through Wednesday, Rosander touted a .397 batting average in 78 at-bats, with team highs in runs, RBI, doubles and multi-hit games.
“C’mon, Jake!” yells a young boy seated beside a friend in the bleachers.
Sonora is playing Katella in the second round of the playoffs, and Rosander is leading off the top of the fourth inning. The score is tied, 1-1.
After taking a ball low, Rosander hits a high chopper to second base. He beats the throw to first.
The young boy high-fives his friend.
“Good job, Jake!” he yells.
Rosander scores later in the inning, giving Sonora a lead to which it would later add. Though threatened in the bottom of the seventh, Sonora wins, 5-2, advancing to the Division 4 quarterfinals a third consecutive year.
Rosander finishes the game with a single, a run scored, a walk and two strikeouts. Marginal numbers. Disappointing, even.
“It’s frustrating,” he’d said the previous week. “I’m so competitive, and because I’m so competitive, I don’t want to fail. If I go 1 for 3, I want more than that. Baseball keeps you wanting more. You’re never satisfied.”
Rosander recently signed his National Letter of Intent to play baseball next year at Brown University. He maintained a 4.3 GPA his senior year with classes such as Advanced Placement calculus and science. He has taken AP classes all four years of high school.
“It forces you to study,” he said of the curriculum. “If you do your homework and work hard, you’ll get good grades. It’s as easy as that.”
Rosander leaves for Rhode Island in September, but he’ll train individually and play enough travel ball “to stay fresh” in the summer.
Like Chandler, his former teammate, before him, Rosander is mentoring underclassmen, sharing tidbits of advice with sophomores and juniors that he wishes he'd received earlier in his career.
His legacy, as a result, will live through the next generation of Sonora ballplayers.
“He’s been a joy to have in the program,” Tellers said. “He’s been fun to watch. We want him to go out with a successful season, to send him off on a nice note. You hate to see him leave.”
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