When every young kid laces up their first pair of baseball cleats, they dream of playing under the lights of a professional baseball stadium. University of Dallas baseball alumni Will Marshall and Luciano Villanueva are still following that dream.
Marshall and Villanueva are currently in the one-month long California Winter League (CWL) in Palm Springs, Calif., playing in front of representatives from the Independent League, among others. CWL started Jan. 22, and ends Feb. 18.
During his four years at UD, Villanueva had a career .267 batting average with 100 hits and a .351 on base percentage while playing outfield. Villanueva broke out as a starting pitcher in his senior year, earning a 3-3 record in seven starts, while throwing three complete games and striking out 25 in 43.2 innings.
Meanwhile, Marshall spent his time as a Crusader as a standout relief pitcher. The Frisco, TX. native threw 99.2 innings, struck out 77 and earned four career saves.
“Both Will Marshall and Luciano Villanueva are your Division III feel good stories,” baseball Head Coach Joe Myers said. “Two guys that came in, got after it, and saw a steady increase in talent and development. Their hard work and drive to become the best baseball players they can be has put them in a position to have a shot at playing at the next level.”
With such impressive careers as Crusaders, the UD alumni are already proving their worth in the CWL.
“UD baseball just added to my joy of the game,” Villanueva said.
“I loved every second of my time at UD,” Marshall said. “I reached my best performances at the end of my senior year, seeing how good I became made me want to see how good I could get.”
Ten total teams participate in the CWL, each with a roster of about twenty players.
Both Marshall and Villanueva have been playing games as members of the Washington Blue Sox. Marshall currently holds a 2.89 earned run average, the best among the pitching staff. Villanueva has split his playing time between pitching and the infield, and has two hits as well as four runs batted in out of 15 at bats.
Villanueva and Marshall are not the only players competing for a job, however. The duo claims that the expectations are high in the CWL, but all of the players are working cooperatively toward the same goal.
“As far as competition goes, there are a lot of good players out here with the same aspirations as us,” Villanueva said. “Everything is a lot faster, and there is definitely a lot more pressure. There’s pressure to get a job and then keep your job.”
Last year, five players from the CWL signed Major League Baseball contracts, and five players were invited to Spring Training camps for six different clubs. Numerous players have signed with Independent League teams, which are not affiliated with the MLB but are still professional teams in the United States and Canada. Some players even sign with professional teams overseas in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria. All of these are possibilities for the UD graduates.
“Luciano and I are still trying to play professional baseball,” Marshall said. “[The California Winter League] contacted us once we graduated and offered us spots to play. There are a bunch of [Independent League] legends here and Major League Baseball scouts, but you never know who is watching you play.”
While on the long road to professional ballplayer status, Marshall and Villanueva are more determined than ever to achieve their dream.
“Since high school my goal was to be a professional baseball player, so when college was over it wasn’t even a debate whether or not to pursue it,” Villanueva said. “It was just the next step.”
In Texas, the team at UD is equally excited to see their former teammates and players begin their professional careers.
“Luciano and Will are are two guys who got the most out of their careers here at UD, and two of the hardest working guys you’ll find” assistant coach Michael Schweiss said. [They] always put the team first.”