Former student Cody Ponce makes strong MLB debut, reflects on his time at CPP

Former CPP student Cody Ponce made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates as he was called upon in an extra inning clash against the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 2.

Ponce last played for the Broncos in 2015 when he was pursuing his undergraduate degree in kinesiology prior to being selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the second round of the 2015 Major League Baseball draft.

The 26-year-old pitcher’s hard work in the minor league system for five years paid off when he walked onto Wrigley Field in Chicago earlier this month.

Ponce described stepping onto the mound and finally living his dream as one of his greatest experiences. “I was so taken in awe of being a big leaguer and (had) so much adrenaline running through my veins,” Ponce said.

Former Bronco pitcher Cody Ponce appearing in his second MLB game against the Minnesota Twins. (Courtesy of Josh Lavellee)

Ponce further explained that big leaguers wait for this moment their whole career and want to share the experience with the people who have supported them throughout their journey.

He recognized that the experience was bittersweet considering the MLB is not allowing fans for the season due to COVID-19 safety concerns. “It’s kind of tough but knowing they were all there sitting at home watching me is as good as it’s going to get right now,” Ponce said.

Following his debut, Ponce made his second appearance for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 6, where he pitched three innings and recorded his first strikeout, ending the outing with three strikeouts in total. “I struck him out, got the ball back, and two pitches later, with the same baseball, I gave up a homer,” he added. He is now waiting to get the ball authenticated from the MLB.

Ponce has enjoyed playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates and spoke highly of the franchise’s camaraderie. “(The) Pirates are a great organization,” Ponce said. “Whether you’re in Altoona, Pennsylvania down here in the training site…or up in the big leagues, everybody is really cool. It’s like a brothership.”

CPP was the only college Ponce applied to that gave him a sports scholarship. He credited being a part of the university’s baseball team for preparing him to play at baseball’s next level.

Randy Betten coached Ponce at CPP (and is currently the head baseball coach for the Broncos). He described Ponce’s promising potential out of high school. “He fit everything that a pro prospect looks like: big, tall, athletic, with projectability,” Betten said

Tough love is key when a coach wants to get the best out their players, an approach Betten took with Ponce.

“As a head coach you know you always got to be tough on your really good guys and I was hard on him; I demanded,” Betten said. “I had high expectations for him, but that’s my job. I never wanted to come off those standards or expectations that I had for him. I loved him and still do till this day and I think he understands that I was trying to take him to a place I thought he could go and now he’s (gotten) to the top of baseball.”

Cody Ponce pitches the final inning during the Broncos 7-4 win over UC San Diego to win the West Regional of the NCAA baseball playoffs May 18, 2015. (Courtesy of CPP Athletic Department)

But baseball was not the only sport Ponce played growing up. His father made him play every sport to see which sport he would fall in love with. “I chose baseball, and I don’t know why I choose the hardest sport, but I did,” Ponce said.

Never losing the love he had for baseball was the right decision. After a solid senior year at Damien High School, in La Verne, California, where he had a 3.09 earn run average (ERA) and 43 strikeouts, he received a sports scholarship to play at CPP.

CPP is under NCAA Division II and is a part of the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA). Ponce described the competition he faced as a Bronco playing in this division.

“I wouldn’t say just because we were D-2 we didn’t have good competition against other schools or other guys, because it was a great time there and it was good competition against other teams,” Ponce said.

Ponce reflected on two memories that he will never forget during his time at CPP. The first memory is winning the regional at Mt. San Antonio College since he was able to close out the game. Then defeating UC San Diego to win the CCAA Championship.

Ponce’s finished his last season as a Bronco pitcher with a 5-3 record with one save and S-ERA of 1.44. Additionally, the 2015 Bronco baseball team made an NCAA tournament appearance and were the CCAA Conference regular season champions, CCAA Tournament Champions and NCAA West Regional Champions.

On Aug. 27, Ponce made his first MLB start as he shut down the St. Louis Cardinals allowing only five hits in just over five innings to go along with two strikeouts.

Ponce stated that he believes the Pirates are utilizing his talents to the best of their ability. “They are just going to use me whenever they need me and that’s OK with me and I understand that for right now,” Ponce said. “Hopefully within the next year I can earn my spot up there, show them I can either be a full-time starter or a full-time reliever.”

Becoming an MLB player is not an easy path, but Ponce’s determination showed that he belongs in the big league.

Ponce said, “I wanted to achieve something that everybody said was going to be impossible and probably (would) never happen.”

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