Monte Vista High senior Connor Bruce was honored on campus Wednesday by representatives of Sports Illustrated for being named the national sports publication's High School Athlete of the Month for April.
The Mustangs catcher, who was batting a healthy .411 heading into the game that afternoon against Cal High, has helped lead Monte Vista to a 13-7 overall record (7-4 in league play), good enough for second place in the highly competitive East Bay Athletic League. A season ago, Bruce as a junior helped his team to a share of the regular-season EBAL title with oft-frontrunner De La Salle.
Bruce's in-uniform accomplishments, however, might not come close to measuring up to what he has done on a smaller diamond, with a different type of baseball program.
Since his freshman year, Bruce has been a pitcher-coach for the Danville Little League Challenger Division -- a program developed in 1989 to give boys and girls with physical and mental disabilities the opportunity to play the game.
Not only has he worked tirelessly within the program for the past three years, the Blackhawk resident is also a pillar for the special-needs community on the Monte Vista campus, including as a leader of the school's Friends of the Special Olympics Club.
It is the work both on campus and in the challenger division that made Bruce's selection as the Athlete of the Month obvious, according to Ali Fenwick of Sports Illustrated.
"We picked Connor because of what he is doing off the field, in such a genuine way," said Fenwick, who learned about the challenger division through Bruce's story. "He's so involved with special-needs kids ... It's important to him. He's not just a kid doing good things to check off boxes."
Bruce, who was introduced to the challenger program by his grandfather, said working with special-needs youth has become a passion of his -- one he never knew he had.
Now, after experiencing the joy, the he said he would not rule out the possibility of making it his life's work.
"I'm going to see where college takes me," Bruce said Wednesday. "It's something that I'm definitely interested in, and want to stay involved with. We'll see if it takes me in the direction of a career."
Although his childhood dream was to take the field as a Major League Baseball player, Bruce has chosen not to pursue a spot on a collegiate roster. That decision, however, is one that could change, as he said "if the right opportunity" presents itself he would love to give NCAA Division I baseball.
His willingness to take everything in stride, and keep all possibilities open, is one that his mother Kim said went into her son's selection of North Carolina State as the next destination in his life.
"He is someone who likes to meet new people, and try new adventures," Kim Bruce said. "(He) and I have gone bungee jumping in the past six months. We've gone sky diving. He likes to live life, and he's going to succeed no matter where he goes."
Kim Bruce added that one compelling factor that came into play when considering the Raleigh, N.C., campus was that he knew no one in the area, the exact opposite of what intrigues most high schoolers.
Also in attendance for Bruce's Athlete of the Month presentation was Bill Laskey, a former San Francisco Giant and current Bay Area radio and television baseball analyst.
Of Bruce, the former big-league pitcher said he was impressed by the youngster's work and patience. Laskey urged the approximately 200 onlooking Monte Vista students and staff to grasp the significance of one of their own being selected out of thousands to be recognized.
"You don't understand how many kids are across the United States," the CSN and KNBR contributor said, "and you have the player of the month of April in Sports Illustrated."
The High School Athlete of the Month is a designation that Fenwick said has been around for two years, making Bruce the 17th person ever to receive the honor. He was also the first baseball player to be honored.
The award is presented by Sports Illustrated in partnership with the U.S. Marine Corps. Among those on hand to recognize Bruce's role in the community and on campus was Danville-area Marine recruiter, Staff Sgt. Robert Wancea.
"It is clear that Connor has made a tremendous impact both on and off the field," Wancea said. "Connor has done a terrific job of representing the Marine Corps values of honor, courage and commitment."