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Three-sport Stingers' star Flores one of NWL's top hitters

Tribune photo by Ben Brewster Willmar’s Marc Flores steps to the plate against the Alexandria Blue Anchors on June 19 at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar.

By Jacob Belgum

WILLMAR — Coming out of high school, Marc Flores received NCAA Division I scholarship offers in football, basketball and baseball.

While some might think choosing between the three sports would be excruciatingly difficult, the Willmar Stingers’ 6-foot-5, 230-pound first baseman knew baseball was the path for him.

“I always told my father and my mom that I wanted to play professional baseball when I was young,” Flores said. “Baseball is my passion, and I chose baseball to see how far it could take me.”

It’s impossible to predict how Flores, 21, would have performed in the other two sports but he’s making quite a name for himself on the diamond.

The King City, Calif., native is seventh in the Northwoods League hitting .346 and he leads the Stingers with 6 home runs and 30 runs batted in. His OPS is .999, he’s slugging .592 and getting on base at a .407 clip.

Willmar manager Matt Hollod said a clear mind is one key to Flores’ hitting talents.

“It’s because he doesn’t think at all,” Hollod. “He’s different than most guys in the sense that he goes up there and doesn’t think much — he just reacts.”

Flores said he was not impressed by the Division I college baseball offers he received after high school so he decided to attend Hartnell Junior College in Salinas, Calif., for two years. In order to receive more attention from larger schools, he believed he needed to display his talents at Hartnell first.

Based on his success at Hartnell — earning all-conference selections twice and an All-American selection his sophomore year — he apparently made the right decision.

“I became an All-American there and got a lot more offers,” Flores said. “I got Hawaii which is one I really liked.”

Although Flores reached his goal of attending Hawaii, his first season proved to be a rocky one. Flores batted a respectable .280 and led Hawaii in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, doubles and homers. But individual success did not cultivate a winning culture for the Rainbows. The club struggled mightily and finished the season with an abysmal 16-35 record.

Flores says he is prepared for the challenge of turning Hawaii into championship-level ball club and, as a senior, providing leadership.

“I’m just going to come in and work hard and try to build everyone up so we can get that Big West Conference Championship,” he said.

That hard work has already started this summer with the Stingers. Flores has had the opportunity to play first base, the outfield and as a designated hitter for a ball club that placed second in the Northern Division’s first half and is 0-1 to start the second half.

Though Willmar is a long ways from Flores’ native California, he felt an opportunity to play in the Northwoods League was too good to pass up.

“We feel great,” he said. “We have a great team. Everyone has a lot of talent. This is probably the most talented team I’ve been on.”

And the Stingers appreciate having Flores around, on the field and off. Hollod said another key to Flores’ success is his easygoing personality.

“He stays loose, he’s laid back and it works for him with his style,” Hollod said. “He has fun playing the game.”

Whatever the secret to his success may be, Flores said he hopes it will be enough to aid the Stingers in their playoff push. But whether or not the Stingers make the playoffs this summer, Flores’ goal is to eventually have a long stint in professional baseball. He knows that the road to the pros is not easily navigable.

“I’m trying to get a contract next year, (but) I have to have a better year at Hawaii,” he said. “My future goal is definitely to play professional baseball — every college baseball player should have that goal. (I am) just going to keep working hard.”

With his realistic pro potential, one has to assume Flores made the right choice. Baseball is the game for him.