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Long distance traveling paying off for Artesia Punishers 18-Gold’s Kieren Lopez

Kieren Lopez will be attending Chaminade in the fall.


By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

It would only be fitting that in travel softball, the travel part plays a huge role. It’s not just travelling from one tournament to another to play for a championship, as there is another component of travelling that comes into play.

More and more teams are bringing in players that live outside the immediate area of where she lives, or that live beyond a two-hour drive. In fact, there have been players that will leave their own state to play for a more desirable club in another state. It’s what has made the sport grow and grow, among other things, year after year.

That’s where Kieren Lopez and the Artesia Punishers 18 Gold team come into play. Lopez is a second baseman for Frontier High in Bakersfield but an outfielder or utility player for the Punishers. Her journey to the Punishers, no pun intended, is similar to others who have decided to test the market and venture away from their home base.

Lopez’ path to the Punishers began when she played against the younger Punishers teams in a friendly at Artesia Park while playing for the Bustos Elite 12-Under team out of Porterville. Lopez noticed how much more competitive they were from the teams she had played on and began to have thoughts of the Punishers as her next team.

“You could tell they wanted to be there and that they wanted to win,” Lopez said. “So, I wanted to be a part of an organization like that. When I was older and I wanted to find a team that was really good and I knew that could get me to where I wanted to go, I knew that the Punishers would be the place to be.”

When Lopez was 15 years old, she wanted to find a more competitive team from Los Angeles. She and her mother, Serena, remembered the Punishers and knew they had a good 18-Under team and called Punishers head coach Bob Medina.

“I was full of questions and thought I took up most of his time,” Serena Lopez remembered. “But then I came to find out that he had a lot more to say than I did. He’s just a friendly guy and getting to talk to him, I got to know him on a personal basis that day. I was pretty much sold that first conversation I had with him.”

Having players come to the Punishers who don’t live in the Southland wasn’t new to Medina. In 2007, when the Punishers won the Amateur Softball Association National Championship, one of their players, Ali Adelman, was a pitcher from San Diego. And more recently, they have had Trinity Seguritan, who hails from Waialua, Hawai’i.

“When they come to us for tryouts or stuff like that geographically, I always explain to them what it consists of, and we’ll make some exceptions to them,” Medina said. “In the past, we’ve had a lot of San Diego kids; we’re constantly getting people from San Diego, Bakersfield, San Bernardino, and Kieren comes to us from Bakersfield. We get kids who are very dedicated…and they take on the challenge. I hope that they feel that we fulfill their obligation.”

When Kieren Lopez was younger, she was recommended to the Punishers by another coach, Joe Castillo of the Bustos Elite, and when she was 15, she knew that she wasn’t going to play travel softball in the Bakersfield area as most of the girls go their separate ways, according to Serena.

“I wanted to play for a team that was more competitive and getting recruited was the main goal,” Kieren Lopez said. “I knew if I stayed in Bakersfield, it would be less likely for me to get recruited to a school I wanted to go to rather than coming here with the Punishers.”

Kieren Lopez tried out with five other teams but knew the Punishers were the one that felt like home and was immediately welcomed when she became a member of the Punishers and began hitting in groups at Medina’s business, VIP Batting.

“Honestly, when we came into it, we thought it was going to be very frustrating and setting ourselves up for maybe it not happening,” Serena Lopez said. “Coming into it, I’m growing just as any other older adult with a child that’s getting into something like travel. I was oblivious and everything was explained to me.

“We had a sit-down meeting and it was very casual,” she continued. “But Bobby explained quite a few things that I would run into, like…the place I can find the best food. It just feels like home every time I come through here.”

“Someone far away has to already show their commitment, number one, 100 percent,” Medina said. “And they’re going to have to come to our practices. They’re going to have to come to our workouts, our friendlies, different things that we have. They’re going to have to come and show their commitment to the team because it’s easier to quit than it is to go forward, and I always tell the kids that.”

On a good day, the Lopez contingent can get to Artesia in two hours, 10 minutes and on a regular day, two and half to three hours. At worst, it takes the Lopez family over four hours to get from Kern County to Artesia. In fact, the latest they would get back to their home was 2:00 a.m., which came after a practice at VIP and after talking to Medina. Then, Kieren Lopez had to go to school a few hours later.

When she can’t make it to Artesia for a practice or a game, Kieren Lopez goes to a workout place Monday-Thursday in her area. A batting cage was also installed in her backyard and she would send Medina a video of her hitting about once a month. She says she always knew she could ask him questions through email.

“Sometimes, my biggest challenge is at the drop of the hat, I’ll have a practice the next day,” Medina said. “I’ve gotten to the point where some of the kids have been very loyal and they understand our system; they know what’s going on. I’ll tell them to just stay home and not to worry about coming in. After they know our system, I believe it’s softball 101.”

Medina has never had a player from outside Southern California begin the season in September and leave at any point because of the long distance. But he has turned down players from Texas and last year, from Illinois to pitch in the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships.

Players who come from long distances to play for the Punishers but can’t make it for every practice or friendly still workout at home and keep in contact with Medina when they can’t make it to Southern California. They will even send in videos of their workouts.

“She works so hard,” Medina said. “She’s a very hard worker. She works so hard out in the field, on the field, at bat every single time. And then not only that, the parent’s dedication because it really means a lot. If you don’t have the parent’s dedication, you don’t have the kid’s dedication.”

An icing on the cake for Kieren Lopez was when she got a scholarship to Chaminade University in Hawai’i around the end of this past April or beginning of May. She recalls that Chaminade was the school she wanted from the beginning.

“It was amazing to find out that I could actually go there. I felt like everything just came together and that it was going to work out. I was so excited.”

“I was grateful for a lot of things,” Serena Lopez said. “I was grateful for her and her dedication. I was grateful for knowing my coach that led us here. I was grateful for getting to know Bobby and [assistant coach] Ed [Blanck] and the organization. Deann [Medina] is great; she does what she needs to do to get the paperwork going and get the parents going. If anyone would dream it for their kid, this is it.”

Kieren Lopez has less than month with the Punishers before she heads off to college and says she wouldn’t change a thing from the past three years, citing she has learned something new with every obstacle that has come her way.

“I feel like it has built me as a player and as a person,” she said. “Living so far away, when I was on the team as a sophomore I was playing with a bunch of older girls and that obstacle, I got to become comfortable playing with older girls, and I learned from them. Coming into this year, and I’m older, I have more confidence now.”

“I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t know that coach Bobby would help me, and he did,” she later continued. “Because, the team was different from when I was a sophomore to now. It’s all completely new girls but I always wanted to come back to play for him.”

“I believe that we fulfill our obligation every year getting them scholarships and going to college” Medina said. “It’s really about their kids, so that’s kind of what we do. In the end, the kids stick around, and they stay through the end. Now, we do have the option of letting them go because of certain issues. But, other than that, I can’t remember anybody that has quit because it’s too far.”

But this won’t be the last time you’ll hear from the Lopez family from Bakersfield. Serena Lopez added that she has two younger girls and ‘hands down, I would bring them here and nowhere else’.  She then said that she would hope that Medina never retires and accepts them.

“I always tell people, I can’t walk up today and say, ‘you have to respect me because I have whatever, whatever’,” Medina said. “I always tell the kids respect is earned from day one all the way through. And if anybody knows who I am, I never change my way. I’m out here trying to help kids.”