March 20, 2009
Rice junior Jimmy Comerota, the starting first baseman on the Owls' nationally ranked baseball team, is at a rare and unique cross-section of two different organizations that are as polar opposites from each other as there can possibly be. Comerota volunteers his time equally between community service work in the Houston area and with a number of the campus spirit groups at the Owls' different home sporting events.
Unlikely as it may seem, Comerota is right at home in that microscopic space where the Salvation Army somehow intersects with the Autry Army.
Through his membership with the Rice chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Comerota (or "Jimmy Baseball" to his friends - and he has a lot of them) has been part of various food and clothing drives that benefit different charity organizations like the Salvation Army. As a member of the National Honor Society and NCAA YES program, the Owls' hustling first baseman was able to meet a goal of having over 100 hours of community service in everything from Habitat for Humanity to hurricane relief.
"There are a lot of great organizations out there doing great work, but they never seem to have enough people," Comerota said. "They need volunteers. Once you get involved you realize its not that hard to help people out, and you find yourself wanting to keep doing what you can when you can. A lot of people just don't take that first step."
Not only is "Jimmy Baseball" part of various Rice groups that provide community service, he does so while playing Division I baseball and going to school in the University's accelerated academic curriculum. Comerota has in fact excelled in all the realms. The Missouri City, Tex., who joined Rice from Hightower High School has maintained a 3.26 grade point average with a double-major in Sport Management and economics.
On the baseball diamond Comerota is a .291 career hitter who a year ago shared the team lead in hitting (.417) in the Owls' run through the NCAA Tournament on the way to the College World Series. "Jimmy Baseball" batted at an even better pace (.429) in Omaha. Legendary Rice head coach Wayne Graham said that Comerota is "arguably the most improved college player over the last two years" and that he "is versatile enough to play any position in the infield (except pitch)."
It was at the College World Series last season where the Rice baseball team garnered a lot of attention from the Omaha community for an off-the-field occurrence that, naturally, Comerota was in the center of putting it all together. Comerota struck up a friendship with an Omaha family on the Owls' 2006 College World Series trip (note that Rice has made an eye-opening three CWS trips in a row) and maintained the friendship to the present day. Last year Comerota casually promised the family that if Rice did indeed make it back to Omaha in 2008, his entire Rice Owls team would attend the Little League game of the family's young son.
Rice indeed made it back to the Series. On a team's off day, the Owls' charter bus with the entire roster of players first made a visit to the Children's Hospital of Omaha. The team signed some autographs and gave away some memorabilia items in an attempt to lift the spirits of the young patients. After the hospital visit, the same Rice bus pulled up to a Little League field in Omaha to check out some of the game action.
Comerota delivered on his promise. The two little league teams, all the parents of the players, and the teams on neighboring fields looked on in amazement. A CWS team had taken the time to visit and encourage the next generation of baseball players. It was thought that in the history of the College World Series, it may have been the only time that a participating CWS team had attended a local little league game.
"I asked our team to do it," Comerota said. "Everybody on our team played Little League baseball at some point, and we're not such big-shots that we couldn't spare a little time for some of these kids. I'll tell you, we really enjoyed it. For a lot of us it reminded us of when we played baseball for the first time. We all have those great memories.
"The toughest part was the contrast of having just come straight from the Children's Hospital," Comerota said. "Those were two very different experiences to have with kids, but both very rewarding in their own way. The guys on the team will try to make at least one hospital visit a semester, even when the baseball season is going on."
Between the community service, Division I baseball (where Comerota is taking on a new position this spring), to holding a double-major, does "Jimmy Baseball" ever get some time to relax? How does someone who's so involved in the campus and the community let off a little steam?
Comerota is also a proud member, a ring-leader actually, of the student spirit section at home sporting events - particularly men's and women's basketball games at Autry Court in the newly remodeled Tudor Fieldhouse. Wearing his baseball cap now turned backwards like a catcher, Comerota and his spirited, decibel-raising classmates in the "Autry Army" can make a college basketball game seem like the longest 40 minutes a visiting team will endure all season.
"The Autry Army is just for fun," Comerota explained. "We try and help our team's cause if we can. We're trying to get the Army to grow so it will still be going on after some of us older ones eventually graduate."
After just a short time visiting with "Jimmy Baseball," one gets the feeling that any team, or Army in fact, with Comerota on its side has the advantage. Comerota certainly has all his various groups heading in the right direction. He is one of Tomorrow's Leaders.
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