Sam Rice’s dedication to baseball pays off with a Division I commitment

Mia Kessinger

Gripping the baseball in anticipation for his pitch, senior Sam Rice winds up, firmly spinning the ball into the glove of the catcher. As a left-handed pitcher who throws his fastball at an average of 88 miles per hour, Rice has quickly become one of Redwood’s key players. In practicing and working out six days a week, Rice’s deep-rooted passion and dedication to baseball earned him a spot on Saint Mary’s Colleges’ team — a Division I program.

Rice (middle) smiles with his parents on national signing day. Photo courtesy of Sam Rice.

Committing himself to the sport year-round, Rice plays in the spring for Redwood and in the summer for his travel team Norcal Baseball, while working out and practicing individually during the offseason. Rice maintained an impressive 1.53 earned run average (ERA) his sophomore year on the junior varsity team — a strong statistic in comparison to the average college baseball ERA of 4.00. Redwood’s head coach Mike Firenzi believes Rice will reach that same level of success on the mound this year. 

“We are looking for him to be one of our main pitchers and for him to play a position when he isn’t pitching. He has gotten bigger and stronger every year and has a lot of ability and skill,” Firenzi said. “He hasn’t been able to play as many games as we would have liked in his high school career, but I know he is entirely capable of succeeding and being a big contributor this year.”

Because his junior year was cut short due to COVID-19, Rice was unable to play many games or make a big impact on Redwood’s varsity team. However, as a senior, he has stepped up to lead by example for the younger players on the team, according to Rice.

“I am someone who will put in the work — I am always putting my full effort in at practice. I am going to be a leader by having others see how hard I am working and want to do that as well, so I think it will ultimately have a domino effect on the rest of the team,” Rice said.

By devoting time into improving and honing in on his skills, Rice should have no problem gaining a spot on Saint Mary’s starting lineup, according to senior and teammate Ben Cohen.

“Sam has become a lot more organized and determined throughout the years. Now that he has a rhythm going, he knows he can be 10 times better than he is currently,” Cohen said. “I see him everyday working on his strength and mobility and I see that improvement coming through with his skills. He is doing a great job when it comes to getting better everyday by working on the little things, and I know that will pay off for him in college.”

A fundamental factor in committing has been Rice’s enthusiastic work ethic, as it took many trips to places like Arizona and Texas in order for him to get in front of college scouts. He ultimately decided to play at Saint Mary’s because of the exemplary coaching staff and program. 

“The skills [the Saint Mary’s coaches] teach the team not only apply to baseball, but to life as well, which I thought was important and unique. For example, they exemplify how to set goals and how to manage your time as a college student-athlete. Having that guidance and skillset is something I really wanted,” Rice said.

Winding up, Rice prepares to throw a strike.

In preparation for collegiate baseball next spring, Rice has already begun improving his lifestyle by setting weekly and monthly goals for working out in addition to attending seminars on nutrition.

“[College] is going to be a lot fiercer of an environment, which I think will help push me to get even better, because every player is going to want to be on that starting nine. But I am doing everything I can to prepare my mindset by communicating with my college coaches, attending seminars, setting goals and working out to make sure my body is healthy and ready to go by the fall,” Rice said.

Heading into his final season of high school baseball with his positive attitude and his power on the mound, Rice will have lasting effects on Redwood’s team and will carry that success with him into college, according to Cohen. 

“Besides having the strength and size to be a dominant pitcher, I just think his confidence and energy really helps us win and come together as a team,” Cohen said. “He is such a great person who builds team bonds and makes everyone feel comfortable. I would say bringing success is just a part of Sam’s personality, and Saint Mary’s is going to be lucky to have him.”