By John Philip Wyllie
Former University of San Diego High School stars Nick Guerra and Mark Prior formed a highly effective battery for the Dons back in the late nineties. And both of them dreamed at that time, of one day playing professional baseball. Prior of course, has made a name for himself with the Chicago Cubs and gone on to become one of the National League’s top pitchers. This season, Guerra is fulfilling his dream too, but in a different way. He is catching for the Golden Baseball League’s San Diego Surf Dawgs.
“I had elbow surgery a while back, so right now I’m just on top of the world to be playing the game again,” Guerra said prior to San Diego’s 11-3 loss Tuesday night to the Chico Outlaws. “Obviously, you want to move on to the next level, but right now I am happy where I am. If I can do well here, good things can happen. That’s the ultimate goal.”
The San Diego Surf Dawgs are part of an eight-team professional independent baseball league. Member clubs are based in California and Arizona. Most of the league’s players are former college stars and some of them have additional minor league experience. The exception on the Surf Dawgs of course, is 46-year old Rickey Henderson, a future MLB Hall of Famer. Guerra didn’t know what to expect when he heard Henderson would be his teammate.
“Before he arrived here I was worried. Is he really going to come? I thought he might stay away from the other players and have his own locker room and be the way you hear that Barry Bonds is. Obviously, he knows that he is special, but at the same time he is here having a good time with the rest of the guys. And he is just one of the guys. He takes the time to help people out with the mental side of the game as well as physically. In a little while we are going to go back into the cage and he is going to help me with my right-handed swing,” Guerra said.
Guerra sees another great advantage in playing in San Diego. It is the guidance that he receives from his manager, Terry Kennedy. Kennedy is a former four-time MLB All-Star and caught14 seasons in the big leagues including several with the San Diego Padres.
“(Kennedy) knows what it takes to get there and knows what it takes to stay there. He’s a very positive coach, but he tells you like it is,” Guerra said. “He lets us play our game but he gives us little suggestions that will help us improve. I couldn’t think of a better situation.”
Having succeeded at USDHS, Grossmont Community College and San Jose State, Guerra sees his current role with the Surf Dawgs as just another step toward achieving his ultimate goal of one day playing in the majors. One of his stops along the way was in Mexico.
“I’ve played a lot in Ensenada and I love the culture down there,” said Guerra who is a third-generation Mexican-American. “I understand Spanish pretty well and I can speak it, but I’d like to one day really master it and be able to speak with anybody.”
Guerra has traveled extensively in Mexico and plans to return someday so that he can further explore his roots and improve his language proficiency. But for now, he is focused almost entirely on baseball.