Growing up, whether it be tee-ball, little league or high school, you and I played baseball against friends our own age. Sure, there were some players a year or two younger or older, but the age gap usually didn't grow much more than that.
It did for Giants utility man Mauricio Dubon, though. A lot more.
In his early teens, Dubon often played baseball against men as old as 35 or 40. That all changed when a missions group traveled to Honduras to donate baseball equipment. After connecting with Andy Ritchey -- a chaperone for the group -- Dubon, then 15 years old, soon enrolled at Capital Christian High School in Sacramento, and the Ritcheys became his host family.
"That was pretty much the only road I could go, and they just made everything happen. The paperwork, the student visa working -- they pretty much took care of everything," Dubon told NBC Sports Bay Area in a recent Zoom video interview. "After that, they took over and I was goin’ to school."
Dubon never changed schools in Honduras, and there obviously were hurdles with integrating into his new environment. But anyone who has seen him take the field knows his smile and joy are infectious. Meeting new friends never has been too hard for Dubon. Leaving his family, however, wasn't as easy.
"It was just missing my family most of all," Dubon said when asked what was the hardest part about moving from Honduras to Sacramento.
From the moment he stepped onto the field at Capital Christian, it was clear he wasn't just another player lacing up his spikes. He was special, and more than anything, felt validated knowing he could compete with players his own age. Dubon felt like he belonged while playing baseball in his new home.
The slender shortstop's stats over two years on the varsity baseball team were those that high school kids dream of. At the plate, he was a cheat code for the Cougars. Dubon hit .509 with a .571 on-base percentage and .952 slugging percentage. He totaled eight homers and had 86 hits, 23 doubles, 14 triples, 91 runs, 81 RBI and stole 50 bases.
"It felt really good," Dubon said. "Going out there I knew every time on the field I could do something impressive. I knew I could stand out and everything. That kind of took over. I had the scouts coming in. I had to perform for them, too.
"At the same time, we were winning games. So, it was pretty special. The whole run and everything."
The Giants traded pitchers Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black to the Milwaukee Brewers at last year's trade deadline to acquire Dubon. Like many great high school athletes, Dubon found success on the mound as well. He had a 0.66 ERA as a junior over six starts and recorded two saves in his senior season.
For his age, Dubon's fastball featured some solid velocity. Above all else, he focused on confusing opposing hitters and likened his style to a current Giants teammate.
"I was more like a Johnny Cueto-type," Dubon said. "For high school, I used to throw hard. But I used to just try to mess with people’s timing -- high leg kick, slide step, hold it for a little bit. So it was just messing with the hitter’s timing."
It’s too bad we don’t get to see Cueto on the mound today, but at least we have these impressions 😂 pic.twitter.com/24sws1pV7q— NBCSAuthentic (@NBCSAuthentic) March 26, 2020
If it was up to him, though, Dubon wouldn't have pitched. Scouts came to watch him play shortstop, but he was willing to do whatever the coach asked to help the team win.
Dubon still does the Cueto shimmy when he throws batting practice to kids back in Honduras or even just playing catch sometimes before games. That doesn't mean he wants to toe the rubber again, though.
Dubon has embraced a utitlity role for manager Gabe Kapler. Pitching again, however, is another story.
"No, no. It’s different. These guys are really good players. I don’t want to give up a bomb or anything like that," Dubon said with a laugh.
No matter how hilariously dominant Dubon's numbers were in high school, he was even greater on the soccer field.
Seriously. That's not an exaggeration, just ask him.
"People don’t believe it, but I was a better soccer player than a baseball player," Dubon said. "I had 31 (goals) in 19 games. I still have the school record for goals in a season."
Cristiano Ronaldo has been Dubon's soccer favorite player since he was a little kid, and he mirrored the star when playing for Capital Christian's varsity soccer team. Along with his 31 goals as a senior, he also had 15 assists. Over two years, Dubon scored 46 goals.
A natural shortstop, Dubon believes many of his soccer skills have translated to the baseball field. His feel for the ball on his foot is second nature, no matter how long he has been away from the game.
"Oh yeah, oh yeah," Dubon said when asked if soccer has helped him in baseball. "The footwork and everything. I haven’t played soccer in like three years now, but I know if grab a ball right now I can do something. The footwork is still the same."
It became more clear baseball was his future as more and more scouts flocked to his games. Dubon says he loved playing under pressure and always feels he plays better in front of a crowd, which could be tricky if baseball initially returns without fans in attendance due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Even though Capital Christian is less than a two-hour drive from the Giants' home ballpark, Dubon says they never scouted him in high school. The four teams that watched him the most were the Los Angeles Angels, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies.
The Red Sox eventually selected Dubon in the 26th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, but Dubon expected to be taken by a different team.
"I thought I was gonna be more an Angel than anything else," Dubon said. "The Angels scout kept talking, kept coming out and talking to me and everything. The Red Sox scout came once, talked to my family about a bunch of stuff and that was it.
"I never heard from him."
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Now with the Giants, Dubon once again is connected with Capital Christian. He outwardly shows a ton of pride in his native home of Honduras, though the high school that gave him a chance has a very special place in his heart.
Whether it be old teammates, classmates or coaches, Dubon made sure to have a piece of his high school at Oracle Park as much as possible last season. In reality, though, a special part of Dubon's high school baseball career every day at the Giants' home.
"It's weird because the guy that taught me how to hit, the guy that I'm like, 'OK he taught me how to hit, and thanks to him I hit like I hit,' his dad works for the field at Oracle," Dubon said. "So I say hi to him all the time. I say hi to him all the time."
Honduras always will be home to Dubon, as San Francisco always will be home to the team Dubon fell in love with and now is a key part of the lineup. And then there's Capital Christian, where he found a second family and proved himself on the baseball field and embarked on a path towards a better future.
After his long, unprecedented journey to the big leagues, Dubon has one word of advice to high school baseball players.
"Relax. Everything’s going to be OK," Dubon says.
It's a simple, powerful sentiment we all wish we could grasp more often.
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