By Rick Assad
There aren’t too many things that Jakob Duarte can’t handle on a baseball field or for that matter in a classroom.
A gifted defensive third baseman for Burbank High, the senior right-handed hitter was equally deft on the pitcher’s mound as cracking open a book and turning out A-plus work.
Though he doesn’t pitch as much and his season has come to an end because of the COVID-19 pandemic, does he prefer being a position player or a hurler?
“I don’t think one was necessarily more fun than the other,” said Duarte, an honor student who will attend Cornell University where he’ll major in applied mathematics. “I really enjoyed both while playing them equally. Unfortunately due to repeated injuries, pitching just became too painful to continue, but I’m glad I got the opportunity to do it during the first two years primarily.”
Duarte, who also played first base, said that he would love to play baseball at Cornell, and that sometimes he thought too much on the mound.
“I think the most difficult thing for me as a pitcher was the mental aspect,” he said. “I am a very big overthinker and perfectionist, which made pitching difficult at times, as you have to learn to move on quickly.”
Bob Hart, the longtime Burbank coach, was pleased to have Duarte in his program.
“Jakob is a super-bright, hard-working, high-character, student-athlete,” he said. “He is one of our captains and is definitely someone for younger players to look up to and aspire to be like.”
It seems that athletic ability and scholarship runs in Duarte’s family.
His older sister, Julia, is a former Bulldog softball player who played for the University of Pennsylvania, and like so many others, as a senior, had her season halted.
Duarte was batting .238 with two runs batted in across seven games for the Bulldogs, who were 3-4 and 0-2 in the Pacific League this season.
Was playing prep baseball what Duarte, who hit .245 with 13 RBIs and six doubles in 21 games as a junior, what he expected?
“Playing high school baseball was definitely what I thought it was going to be,” he shared. “I was extremely excited about the opportunity to play in the BHS program during my eighth grade year. I knew it was going to be a lot more demanding in terms of my devotion to conditioning, practices and individual work, but I knew I was ready for that challenge.”
It’s been said and it’s likely true, that baseball is the toughest sport to master. Has Duarte, who started playing on the varsity as a sophomore, found this to be the case?
“In my opinion, baseball is the most difficult sport to play because of how smart you have to be to play it,” Duarte said. “Baseball requires acute mental focus and adaptability as well as physical ability, where in other sports you can beat someone by brute strength. In baseball, no two plays are ever the same, so you have to be ready to adapt to any situation on the field and at the plate.”
Duarte is highly analytical which helped him differentiate between offense and defense.
How would Duarte break the two down? “I think there’s a different mindset offensively versus defensively,” he noted. “At the plate, especially after I had matured more during my junior and senior year, I was always thinking “attack.” I was constantly trying to hunt for a pitch to hit.”
Duarte clarified this thought. “When playing good teams like the Arcadia’s and Crescenta Valley’s of the Pacific League, you have to be prepared to jump on a good pitch to hit, as it might be the only hittable pitch you get during an at-bat,” he said.
Duarte then defined how he approached defense.
“On the field, I was always thinking of what I was going to do with the ball dependent upon the situation at hand,” he said.
A dependable hitter who could hit for power, Duarte held his own in clutch situations against the top-tier teams in the league.
“Off the top of my head, I immediately think of the walk-off win against Burroughs last year and also beating them twice,” Duarte said of the games that stood out. “I also think beating CV for the first time in nearly a decade in walk-off fashion was also a very special moment for me and the team.”
Athletics are often teaching tools. Were they for Duarte? “All of the most valuable lessons I have learned in life are rooted in baseball in some way,” he said. “I have played this game nearly my entire life and along the way have learned to hold myself accountable to my own mistakes, to lead by example, and most importantly, I’ve learned how to learn from my own failures.”
Slumps are something that baseball players have to live with. How did Duarte handle his?
“Many of my slumps stemmed from me being too much of an overthinker,” he admitted. “I’ve always liked to think of success as a measure of confidence in baseball and when you’re not confident, it’s nearly impossible to succeed at the plate. As a younger player, I let my failure eat me up at times and worried about what others thought about my performance; however, as I’ve matured as a player, I learned to reflect upon my failures and fix what went wrong. If I ever felt like something was mechanically wrong with my swing, I would go and hit in the cage off the tee or the machine and take a few buckets worth of swings.”
Having succeeded as a baseball player and a student, what advice would he offer to someone interested in playing hardball.
“If someone wants to try out for the team, I would wholeheartedly encourage them to,” Duarte said. “I think the guys on the team would agree when I say that playing in the program has been an experience of a lifetime, leading to a lot of personal and athletic growth. I have met some of my best friends and made some of my best memories during the last four years. Playing baseball at BHS is a special opportunity that you simply cannot miss out on.”