COSTA MESA – It should come as no surprise that Orange Coast College first baseman Tommy Williams leads the team with nine total sacrifice at-bats. His "we before me" attitude has not only served the Pirates well in 2019, but it's a mentality the OCC sophomore transfer has had with the ball club since coming to Costa Mesa from the Texas Panhandle city of Canyon.
Williams was a standout football and baseball player for his hometown Canyon High School and after originally deciding to play at Midland Junior College, he decided to stay home and play at Division II West Texas A&M in 2018.
"The school was two minutes from home, so it was nice to stay home and play in an area I was very familiar with," Williams said. "I played middle infield for West Texas A&M and I enjoyed my time there with my teammates and playing every day as a freshman."
Williams played in 48 games (47 starts) for the Buffaloes and batted .297 with 47 hits, 23 RBI and a stellar .971 fielding percentage. It was a solid freshman campaign for the local baseball standout, but deep down, something just wasn't right.
"I just didn't feel like this is where I needed to be," Williams said. "I wanted to someday get drafted by Major League Baseball and I wasn't sure if I was going to get the looks of anyone where I was playing. I also didn't want to sit out an entire season, so I had to make the decision to transfer to a two-year program.
"I remember I was in Florida with my family and I started doing some research on community colleges with the best transfer rates to Division I programs and schools with solid baseball programs and Orange Coast College came up right away, so I looked into coming to OCC. I tracked down a former player at Coast from a few years ago on Instagram, Dominic Purpura, and I wanted to ask him about the program and his experience at OCC. He told me that if OCC was a four-year school, he would've stayed all four years so I asked him if he had (head coach John Altobelli's) cell number and I reached out to him."
For Altobelli, he has helped guide the Pirates to three state titles and several Final Four appearances in his storied career and heading into the 2019 season, he had one of his best years of recruiting. "I told Tommy that we had an All-Southern California returner at shortstop in Murphy Stehly and a bounce-back from Texas Christian coming to Coast in Tristan Hanoian, so with them and other solid returning players like Adam Serrano and Joey Fregosi in the mix, our middle infield was going be a tough place from him to play," Altobelli said. "But Tommy was determined to get out of Texas and he wanted to come out here and play."
After a few weeks of talking with his family and friends, Williams decided to take the leap and come to Orange Coast College. "I knew it was going to be a hornet's nest in the middle infield at OCC and Coach Alto was up front with me right from the start," Williams said. "With lots of thought and prayer, I woke up one morning and it just felt like the right thing to do so I made the choice and I haven't looked back."
With the assortment of talent still on a Pirate squad that reached the State Final Four in 2018, Williams knew it would be hard to break into the starting lineup from the middle of the infield. "From Day 1, I told a lot of the guys out here that the more versatile of a ball player you are, the more opportunities you'll have to be successful," Altobelli said. "So, we tried to work Tommy over at first base with the understanding that it was what was best for the team. I'm sure he wanted to stay in the middle infield, but he sacrificed his comfort and for the betterment of the program, he agreed to try first base and he's been outstanding for us."
Playing a new position, on a new team, in a new state … Williams had to earn the trust of the Pirate coaches and his teammates and he worked tirelessly at the new position in the hopes of being OCC's starting first baseman. "It was frustrating at first, without a doubt," Williams said. "But I saw the depth of our roster and I knew that if I could move to first and learn how to be effective there, it would free up options for the rest of the team to play around the infield, so I understood why I was there and embraced the opportunity. I worked with the assistant coaches on getting better and more comfortable and to just let my baseball instincts carry me through."
With so many question marks heading into 2019, Williams put them all to rest by playing an outstanding first base for the Pirates, while being one of the best table-setters for the heart of the OCC lineup. In 42 games with Coast, Williams is batting .358 with 48 hits, 42 runs and 23 RBI. Defensively, Williams has only five errors in 359 total chances for a .986 fielding percentage and has prevented numerous errors of his teammates with his incredible eye-hand coordination on errant throws.
"He's done everything we've asked of him and more," Altobelli said. "He's extremely competitive and gets the job done without being all that flashy. He's the guy who will move guys over and let the guys in the middle of the lineup get the glory. He just wants to win. He's the typical blue collar type of baseball player you root for and you want to see succeed."
Success has definitely found Williams and the rest of his Pirate teammates as OCC captured its third consecutive Orange Empire Conference title and an upcoming returning trip to Fresno for the State Final Four this weekend at Fresno City College. His hard work earned Williams first-team, All-Orange Empire Conference honors and the attention of Division I head coaches from around the country.
"Coming to OCC has been a dream come true for me," Williams said. "To come from the windy Texas Panhandle where it's freezing cold in the winter and scorching hot in the summer … to Southern California … it's been an incredible year here. You always try to play for a 'best case scenario' and a 'worst case scenario.' Well, this experience here has far surpassed any of my best case hopes and wishes. The coaches believed in me and the guys on the team all really care about each other and we all want the same thing. I definitely think we've all learned from one another and we are all pulling on the same side of the rope in the hopes of a state championship."
Following his OCC career, Williams will be heading north to play at the University of Washington and continue his athletic and academic careers. "I went out to visit the campus and meet and the coaches and it seemed like the perfect fit for me. The scenery, the coaching staff, the players on the team … everyone seemed to really be pulling for each other and they all have the same goal. I'm looking forward to being on that team and doing everything I can to help that program win."
But first thing's first … one more weekend with the Pirates and hopefully, one final, lasting memory of a state championship. "I really want to thank the coaches, especially (assistant coach Kent Watanabe) for making me feel at home so fast," Williams said. "I never got the chance to play for a state championship in Texas, so to be able to play for a state title here in California at OCC, it's something I'm definitely looking forward to."
(Tony Altobelli, Orange Coast College Athletics)