The opportunity came late, but Troy Viola is making the most of it.
Viola, the starting shortstop on Summit’s 2016 state championship team, said he planned to spend the summer back home in Bend, working out with his former high school coaches Alan Embree and Richie Sexson, when he received a “last second” offer to join the Bellingham Bells.
“There was a lot of people wondering if I was coming back (home) to the Elks (system) this summer and when that didn’t happen they were kind of bummed because a lot of people that watched me grow wanted to see me play this summer,” Viola said Friday at Vince Genna Stadium in Bend, where the Bells were this past weekend for a three-game series against the Elks.
Despite not getting an offer to play for the Elks, Viola, who spent the previous three summers playing for the Bucks (the Elks affiliate made up of high school and junior college players), said he felt no hostility toward the team he had watched since he was 10 years old.
“It’s great to come back to Bend,” Viola said. “The Elks are a great organization. I’m just super excited to be home. I have nothing bad to say about them, nothing to prove.”
Viola, who entered the series as the reigning West Coast League Player of the Week, stayed hot Friday, hitting a solo home run to left field to lead off the second inning.
“I was just looking for something that I could drive and I got it and I took advantage of it,” said Viola of the home run, which came on his 21st birthday. “That was a really special moment for me, especially having all my family and friends and all the people that have watched me grow up since I was 10 years old in Little League and All-Stars and travel ball and high school and now playing for the Bells. It’s just awesome to come back and put on a little show for them because they’ve been supporting me the whole way.”
Viola hit another home run — his fourth of the season — Sunday as the Bells won 12-4 to take two of three games from the Elks.
“I was just sitting on a fastball and he (Bend pitcher Joe Williams) threw a fastball low and inside and I was on time and I let it rip,” Viola said of Sunday’s homer. “I knew it was gone when I hit it. That was a lot of fun.”
The home runs were not his first at Vince Genna Stadium. Viola, playing for the Bucks, hit a grand slam in the ninth inning two summers ago at Genna on the Fourth of July. Viola played in 11 league games and four nonleague games for the Elks over the past three seasons.
“I felt like I was definitely capable of playing in the West Coast League and excelling there,” Viola said. “Coach James Cordes gave me the opportunity to play for the Bucks and he’s a really good coach and I hopped on the opportunity and I’m glad that I did because I had a lot of fun.”
Entering Tuesday, Viola’s four home runs, in 56 at-bats, led the West Coast League. He was also fifth in RBIs with 13 and had a .339 batting average.
In 53 starts at third base and 199 at-bats this spring for San Jose State, Viola, a junior, hit three home runs and drove in 27.
“I’m a completely different player than what I was during my college season,” Viola said. “I’ve made adjustments in my swing that are going to help me in the long run and I brought them into this summer and they’ve been working out, obviously. I’m just trying to find pitches that I can drive. I’ve been kind of a free swinger in my career and it’s been dialing it down and finding the pitch that I can do damage with instead of going with contact. I’ve just got to keep it up. I think it’s going to be a great season going into San Jose this year.”
At 12-6, the Bellingham Bells lead the West Coast League’s North Division by one game.
“Coaches on the Bells take pride in having us get better throughout the summer,” Viola said. “It’s really a high-class organization here. They really do take everything seriously and they want us to get better and send us back better than when we got here. I really appreciate that from them. As much as I want to work hard, they want to work hard with me.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0307, firstname.lastname@example.org