By John Bohnenkamp
Steven Escarcega wanted to work on his pitching when he decided to play for the Burlington Bees this summer.
What he didn’t know was he was coming to a city where there was a family connection.
Escarcega’s great-grandfather, Edward Boltz, and his great-uncle, Everett Boltz, grew up in Burlington.
“It’s pretty funny to know there were some roots for my family here,” Escarcega said. “I thought it was pretty cool to hear, because it was something I really didn’t know about.”
Escarcega is from Monrovia, California, and redshirted this season at Hawaii Pacific University.
His original plan was to play in a college league in northern California this summer, and when he changed his plans and decided to come to Burlington, that’s when he found out the family ties.
“I honestly didn’t know until I reached out to my uncle,” Escarcega said. “I originally was going to play in northern California, and my uncle lives up there. That was the first place I was going to play, and I was going to stay with him in the summer, hanging out with him.
“So I left him a message, saying I was going to Burlington, Iowa, instead and not coming there. Literally, he called me two minutes later, and he was like, ‘You will not believe this. Your great-grandfather grew up there.’”
Coming to Iowa has been a new experience for Escarcega.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this far east and north,” he said. “I really like it here. It’s a great place.”
Escarcega went to Hawaii Pacific to pursue a degree in diplomacy and military studies — “I wanted to go somewhere that had a military studies major or something like that,” he said — and joined the baseball team. Escarcega didn’t play this season, and when his coach, Dane Fujinaka, saw on social media that Bees manager Owen Oreskovich was looking for pitchers, Fujinaka reached out.
“He said, ‘I’ve got this kid I want to send out there, if you guys would like him,’” Oreskovic said. “I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
“At the end of the year, (Fujinaka) wanted me to reach some goals, like increasing (velocity), gaining some weight,” Escarcega said. “So he wanted me to come here, to get some work.”
Escarcega has been a big part of the Bees’ pitching staff in the opening two weeks of the season. He is 1-0 in four appearances, with a 1.08 earned run average. He has allowed just four hits in 8 ⅓ innings while striking out five.
“Steve has been incredible for us coming out of the bullpen,” Oreskovich said. “He’s fresh (having not played this spring). But every time he’s gone out there this summer for us, it doesn’t look like that. That makes me happy.”
“I’ve been like, ‘Whatever you need me, put me in,’ because I haven’t really played since last June,” Escarcega said. “It has been almost 365 days since I pitched in an organized game.
“When I pitched in high school, I was facing sophomores, juniors. Now here, I’m facing guys that have played a couple of seasons of college. I haven’t seen competition like this in a long time. This is a new skill, a new competition for me. Guys are bigger, a lot better than what I’ve faced.”
The idea of meeting new people was something that Escarcega looked forward to coming to Burlington.
“The first day, when I got here, when they had the team dinner, I looked around and I thought, ‘Oh, geez, I’m not going to remember any names come morning,’” Escarcega said, laughing. “Every single day, it’s just about getting to know people, hearing their stories. It becomes more about making lifelong friends among your teammates.”
BY THE NUMBERS
• Weston Fulk, who redshirted at Iowa this season, is hitting .400 over the last three games. Fulk had his first two home runs of the season in back-to-back wins over the Cape Catfish Friday and Saturday.
• Sam Monroe had his six-game hitting streak snapped in Sunday’s 17-3 loss at Springfield. Monroe has four multi-hit games this season.
• A.J. Henkle has a three-game hitting streak, batting .385 in the streak.
• At Illinois Valley Tuesday and Wednesday. The Pistol Shrimp are 6-5 and are on a three-game winning streak.
• Vs. O’Fallon on Thursday. The Bees return home for a short two-game homestand. O’Fallon swept the Bees in last Thursday’s doubleheader.
• Vs. Quincy on Friday. The Gems are back after the two teams split their season-opening two-game series at Community Field on June 1-2.
• At Quincy on Saturday and at Springfield on Sunday. The Bees make a weekend trip through central Illinois in two Western Conference games.
Photo: Bees pitcher Steven Escarcega is 1-0 in four appearances this season. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)