By Mychael Urban / MLB.comWhenever Pete Pijl needs to motivate his varsity baseball players at Saint Mary's High School in Stockton, Calif., he calls on Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett.
Not literally, mind you. Pijl didn't have a chance to catch up with Bartlett during Tampa Bay's 2008 dream season.
But Bartlett's story of hard work and perseverance is frequently invoked as Pijl puts his Rams through their paces.
"Absolutely, every day," Pijl told MLB.com. "Jason is a huge role model for the guys at St. Mary's."
Bartlett, who graduated from the Northern California school in 1997, was anything but huge while he was with the Rams, who retired his jersey last year.
Pijl said Bartlett, who now stands six feet tall and is listed at 185 pounds, was 5-foot-10 as a senior and "was probably closer to 150 [pounds] than 160." But Bartlett's relative lack of size and eye-popping prep statistics are a big part of the message Pijl imparts on his players.
"Jason hit .326 with two triples and no home runs as a senior, and not a single four-year [college] offered him a scholarship," said Pijl, who was a varsity assistant that year but is now the head coach. "His mom doesn't like it when I say he was a good high school player; she wants me to say he was a great high school player."
Former big leaguers Von Hayes and Ed Sprague Jr., who also played at St. Mary's, were great high school players. Great high school players bat closer to .500 than .300, and they usually pound balls over outfield fences with regularity.
Bartlett, Pijl explained, achieved greatness after leaving St. Mary's, and he achieved it through sheer determination.
After playing two seasons at Stockton's San Joaquin Delta Junior College, which boasts Twins reliever Eddie Guardado among its baseball alumni, Bartlett accepted what Pijl called a "last-minute" offer to play at the University of Oklahoma.
The Padres selected Bartlett in the 13th round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2001. He was traded to the Twins organization the following year, and he gradually emerged as the starting shortstop after making his big league debut in '04.
Last winter, Bartlett was part of a six-player trade that helped transform the Rays from perennial cellar-dwellers to American League champions.
"It's just amazing," Pijl said. "He just keeps getting better and better and better, and he hasn't changed at all. Like when he hit a triple [in Game 4 of the ALCS] -- he just went into third base like it was no big deal. No showboating or yelling. He was just Mr. Cool, like he's always been.
"If you watch him play, that's the way you want your kids to play."
Peter Morelli, the principal at St. Mary's and a former NFL referee, said the 1,100 or so students at his school are pulling for Bartlett. And Morelli says the school's president, Father John Fallon, has followed Bartlett via daily box scores "religiously."
"Tampa Bay, for some kids, is the other side of the world," said Fallon, who grew up in Philadelphia when the Athletics were still in town. "But the local papers here mention Jason in all their stories."
Mention Bartlett at Payter's Grill in Stockton, and you'll find a willing partner in conversation. Pijl owns the joint, and pictures of Bartlett and Guardado grace the walls.
"We've actually got three kids from around here playing in this ALCS," Pijl said prior to Tampa Bay's seven-game victory, noting that Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia and Rays reliever J.P. Howell also played prep ball in the California Interscholastic Federation's Sac-Joaquin Section.
"Pedroia's done pretty well for a little guy, too," he added. "So we're proud of all of them, but Jason's obviously special."
Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.