by Editor Rick Cabral



Just like the team he plays on—Sacramento City College—Justin James is a work in progress. The SCC Panthers (18-15, 9-10 in Big 8) won a tight ballgame yesterday over American River College,   6-5, improving their chances to qualify for the upcoming state community college playoffs.  


James, by contrast, didn't have one of his better days. The Panthers top hitter (coming into the game with a .333 average) went 0-3, striking out twice. 

The sophomore right fielder has garnered attention from the local birddogs principally for two reasons: he is a 6'5", 230-pound left-handed hitting outfielder and the oldest son of Dion James, the McClatchy High standout who enjoyed an 11-year career in the major leagues.  

On top of that, he is a well-spoken, team-first type player, who has tremendous potential, says Panthers' head coach, Andy McKay. "Obviously, he has a high upside in terms of his athleticism. I expect him to sign a professional contract and give it a good run working through a minor league system." 

Unlike his father, at Kennedy High School James was best known for his basketball prowess, once scoring 27 points in the fourth quarter to help his team overcome a 20-point deficit for the win. He didn't even play baseball his senior season, after compiling a combined 99 at bats in his junior and sophomore years, where he hit for a .444 average.  

James enrolled at Sac City to play basketball, but when that didn't pan out he decided to give baseball another try. Most kids wouldn't stand a chance of making the Panthers, which features one of the most competitive baseball programs in the state. But Justin James isn't "most kids." 

In high school, he demonstrated talents outside of athletics. He made the honor roll all four years at Kennedy while playing the saxophone in the school marching band. His passion for music continues, as he records songs on a synth keyboard in his bedroom. 

Moreover, he (and younger brothers Jared, a junior on the McClatchy High baseball team and Jarvis) have the unusual advantage of being mentored by a former big league player.  

After making All-City his senior season at McClatchy High (batting .382), Dion was drafted in the first round (25th overall) of the 1980 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. In his first full MLB season, he hit .295 for the Brewers. In 1987, as a 24-year-old, he hit .312 with the Atlanta Braves. In 11 years, Dion James compiled a .288 average with four clubs, ending his career with the New York Yankees in 1996 as they began their historic championship run (Dion wasn't on the playoff roster). In the All-Time Top 50, Dion was selected 26th overall.   

Justin shrugs when asked if it's tough growing up the son of a former major leaguer. "But I don't know anything else," he points out. "Obviously, it helps me in practice, talking about the games and stuff." 

Justin says his father has imparted some valuable advice. Such as, when he's up at the plate, "Getting an inward turn, showing your butt cheeks to the pitcher to get more power and leverage into your swing." In terms of outfield tips, the father counseled when fielding a "do or die" grounder be sure the button on top of the cap is "level (sic) with the ground," forcing the fielder's eyes to focus on the ball. 

James fouls off a pitch in the game at home against American River College.

Asked if he has a favorite MLB team, Justin James says if forced to choose it would be the Yankees. His favorite big league player is a different story, quickly citing Ken Griffey Junior. "Back in the day, (Griffey Jr.) wore his hat backwards during the Home Run Derby. That made me think he was cool," James says, which explains his uniform number 24 at Sac City. 

Unlike his idol, James has yet to put up the power numbers scouts expect from a talent with a Frank Thomas-type body frame. In fact, this year Justin has yet to hit a home run. Asked to explain the power vacuum, he doesn't lean on the excuse that the new BBCOR bats have negatively impacted his output. In the Big 8 Conference, the leading home run hitters have only two home runs. What does it take to hit one out of Union Stadium, where it's 375 in the power alleys and 415 to dead center? "Just get a good pitch, and let it fly," James laughs.

Justin knows he has much to work on, and enjoys working at it. He calls his Panther teammates "a good group of guys, who are pretty talented. We're all one unit." 

James concentrates while fielding a routine base hit to right field. 

Coach McKay offers that James "has played very well and very consistently from the beginning (2010 season). He's a kid who hasn't played a lot of baseball. He just needs to play as many games as he can." 

Justin James is hoping that after the MLB draft in June, he'll realize his dream and begin playing many professional games en route to a major league career, following in the footsteps of his father, Dion. 

# # # #

Uploaded 04/27/11
Contents © Rick Cabral 2011