When baseball coach John Goulding tells this particular story about former player David Flores, he always gets choked up.
“He played for (Sacramento State) coach John Smith for four years and a few years after, Smith came to me and said, 'This is the kind of guy my daughter could marry,'” Goulding said. “That’s the kind of guy [Flores] is.”
And now Flores, who wasn’t considered much of a recruit out of high school, just started his fifth year of professional ball at spring training in Kissimmee, Fla.
Flores was an 18th round pick of the Houston Astros in 2008. He will be competing for a spot for the Astros Double-A Texas League affiliate team, the Corpus Christi Hooks.
Yet through it all, Flores has kept a level head. He grew up in a tough area of Union City. He has defied some tough odds on the field and he’s never lost sight of his goals – both on the field and in life.
During the off-season, Flores can be found substitute teaching in the New Haven Unified School District and lending a hand to players on the baseball team.
“He told me not so long ago that he wanted my job,” Goulding said. “I told him that’s awesome, but you have to work (at baseball) until you’re done.”
It’s no secret that the “numbered” streets of Decoto aren’t the safest in Union City. Flores grew up on 2nd Street. That area has been home to drugs, gangs and plenty of baseball players who had the talent but never made it — some who never made it through high school.
Goulding points out to the wonderful support by Flores’ family.
“By the time he got to us, the work had been done,” Goulding said. “He had great parents. The family is awesome. His mom (Maria) and dad (Ramon) set some great standards and values.”
Flores was never one to make excuses. He didn’t look at growing up in “Decoto” as a disadvantage. It was just where he grew up.
“Decoto has a reputation of being a bad neighborhood,” Flores said. “Kids made the decisions to do what they want to do. Baseball has kept me out of trouble. I also have two older brothers (Danny and Jaime) and they did a great job of making sure I stuck with baseball and progressed with baseball. I give them a lot of credit. And my parents, I owe them a lot, too. They were always at my baseball games. My mom and dad had two jobs each. I had a pretty good deal.”
A 2004 graduate of Logan, Flores played shortstop at the varsity level for three years. He was a first-team all-Mission Valley Athletic League player his junior and senior seasons. During his senior year, he tore up MVAL pitching to the tune of a .460 batting average with five home runs.
You would think with that kind of resume and a body structure of 6-foot-1, 200 pounds there would be college recruiters banging down his door.
But they weren’t.
Going into his senior year, Flores had no offers. Not one college in the country thought he was capable of playing for their program.
“Nobody saw the skill and the character we saw because we saw him every day,” Goulding said.
With no offers made by April of Flores' senior year, Goulding started calling Division II colleges, such as Sonoma and Chico state universities, but was told they mostly recruit from junior colleges.
Goulding also made some calls to people he knew at San Jose State University and Sacramento State.
“I said, this is a diamond in the rough. He deserves to play Division I,” Goulding said.
As a favor to me, they came and saw him play.
“It was pretty frustrating,” Flores said of the ordeal. “Some recruiters came, but they wouldn’t follow up with a phone call or nothing. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t want to go the JC route because I had put in the work in the classroom.”
And what ensued after both SJSU and Sac State came to see him was a bidding war for his services. Flores went from no offers, to two offers.
“I went down and visited with coach (Smith) and he showed me everything. I liked it," Flores said of his visit to Sacramento State. "I just felt like coach Smith was honest with me and it was a good fit.”
Twenty games into his freshman year, Flores moved from shortstop to third base. And the position stuck.
“If you can play shortstop, you can play anything,” Flores said.
SLOW AND STEADY
Flores was a true college player from the get-go. He didn’t redshirt, he didn’t have to put on too much weight or have to grow some to get on the field. All he had to do was be given a shot.
He got that, and quickly turned into a vital asset. He started 21 games at third after 13 games at shortstop. His first game at third came in a contest against Stanford. Naturally, he had some struggles at the plate as he adjusted to college pitching. He had a .200 average, but showed some glimpses of what he was capable of with six doubles and a pair of home runs.
He also showed some speed and wit on the basepaths with three stolen bases in four attempts. His second home run of the season came in a 9-4 win over Cal, a three-run blast to left field.
“I thought I struggled my first 20 games at shortstop,” Flores said. “I moved to third and ever since then, it stuck. I had never played third before that. But, I was getting bigger and stronger and wasn’t going to be able to play short anymore because I didn’t have that range.”
Flores had a breakout season his sophomore year. He batted .331, with a .485 slugging percentage and a .422 on-base percentage. He led the team with 16 doubles and tied for the team lead with 28 RBIs. He was named to the all-Western Athletic Conference second team.
He also started to get acclimated to third base. He had a .969 fielding percentage and had 110 assists. He set the single-game record in assists with 10 against Hawaii. He started 48 of 52 games.
It was then that Flores started to garner attention from professional scouts.
Flores would be draft-eligible after his junior season, and he was excited about the possibilities.
He batted .311, was named to the all-WAC first team and started 55 of 57 games. He had 66 hits and was caught stealing just three times in 14 attempts. But, the draft came and went and his name wasn’t called.
“Not getting drafted was a big disappointment,” Flores said. “But looking back on it at 25 years old now, I think it was a good thing. I got to go back and get my degree and that got me into teaching. I actually think it was a blessing.”
Flores went into his summer-league team in Minnesota with lingering effects of not being drafted. He did not have the kind of season that a possible draftee would have.
“It was not a good season,” Flores said. “My mind was all about getting drafted and it sucked. When I got back from that, I knew I had one more year (at Sac State) and I worked hard to lose some weight. I got to a good size and I went into my senior year with an attitude of: let’s see what happens.”
What happened was a monster year. Flores hit .366 with 26 doubles, eight home runs and had 46 RBIs. He was an all-WAC second-team selection.
He finished his career as the school’s leader in at-bats (719), doubles (57) and hit by pitches (38). He is second in hits (223), runs scored (128), single-season doubles (26) and hits in a game (5).
He ended up getting drafted.
“The hard work paid off," Flores said. "I just took a whole lot of pressure off my my senior year ... I just said, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. If not, I’m going to be a teacher."
LIFE AFTER COLLEGE
Flores hit a combined .251 for the Single-A Lancaster Jethawks of the California League and the Corpus Christi Hooks in 2011. After hitting .311 with 12 home runs for the Jethawks, he struggled in the Texas League with a .203 average and six home runs. Then again, that’s expected when you make a jump like that.
In 2010, Flores hit .269 with 14 home runs and had 57 RBIs in 115 games.
The highlight of his minor league career came in 2008 at short-season Class A ball as a member of the Tri-City ValleyCats in the New York-Penn League. He hit .266 with 11 home runs and had 37 RBIs. He was named MVP of the NYP All-Star Game with the game-winning double for the National League squad. He also participated in the home run derby.
“I just want to have a good successful year at Double-A,” Flores said.
And in the meantime, during the offseason, Flores does what he can to prepare for life after baseball.
Prior to leaving for spring training, his day would begin at 6 a.m. with workouts – sometimes with current Logan players in the weight room. He would do some substitute teaching after that. And his afternoon/evenings were spent working with kids on the baseball field.
“He’s been a huge impact,” Goulding said. “He’s real involved. Several times I’ve had him talk to the kids about growing up in the community and how to pursue and push on.”
By the time Flores’ day ends, it’s usually around 7 p.m. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Follow Steve R. Waterhouse on Twitter @SRWaterhouse.