In the News: Geneva's "Vegas" hits jackpot

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This article posted with permission of the Beaver County Time, 5/8/07
By: Chuck Curti, Assistant Sports Editor

BEAVER FALLS - Rob Arata was all set to play big-time baseball.

A standout at Centennial High School in Las Vegas, Arata had interest from NCAA Division I schools UNLV, Northern Colorado and Nevada-Reno. Even the NAIA school he was considering, Lewis-Clark State, was top-flight. The Warriors are No. 1 in the latest NAIA baseball poll.

He wound up playing at Geneva College.

"You see an application with 'Las Vegas' on it and you wonder, 'Why would that person come to Beaver Falls?'" said Geneva baseball coach Alan Sumner.

In the last game of his high school career, the state semifinals, Arata severely sprained his ankle sliding into second base to break up a double play. Because he was damaged goods, large schools began to shy away.

"I really had nowhere to go," he said.

Some family friends from Arata's church had a suggestion. Keith and Rosalee Irons and Woody Woods were Geneva College alumni, and they urged him to go and take a look at their school.

Arata was less than enthusiastic. He didn't want to go to a small school, let alone one on the other side of the country. And he didn't feel like making the trek while still being encumbered by a balky ankle and the accompanying crutches.

"I pretty much did it just to please my parents," Arata said with a chuckle.

After touring the campus and meeting with Sumner, Arata and his parents found a quiet spot on the grounds - "It was very green. You don't see a lot of green in the (Las Vegas) desert." - to make a pro-and-con list.

Arata committed to Geneva that day. Four years later, the first baseman is the school's all-time leader in hits and doubles and part of its first American Mideast Conference North championship team.

The Golden Tornadoes begin play in the NAIA Region IX tournament at 10 a.m. today at Kenyon (Ohio) College. Geneva, which finished the regular season 28-18 and 12-4 in the conference, was picked to finish last in the AMC North in a preseason coaches poll.

"It's the greatest feeling in the world," said Arata about the conference title, which Geneva won by beating Point Park four times in two days over the weekend. "It was just hard work from everyone, and it paid off."

Good, old-fashioned hard work is how Arata, who is aptly nicknamed "Vegas," said he became Geneva's all-time hit king. He said he went to the batting cages with his father nearly every day from the time he was 5 years old.

"You can't be satisfied with mediocrity," he said. "If you're going to do something, then be the best at it. That's something my father instilled in me."

Arata leads Geneva with a .415 batting average, which ranks him 48th in the 205-team NAIA, and 38 RBIs. His 226 career hits bested the previous record of 200 set by Scott Filby (1984-87).

His big numbers belie his unorthodox batting stance, which features his legs spread wide, his shoulders leaning back and bat held high. He takes almost no stride when he swings.

"He knows the strike zone very well," Sumner said. "And he has real quick hands and great upper body strength. He just hits the ball so hard."

Arata will soon be headed home to study in UNLV's physical therapy program, and he hopes to be an athletic trainer in the future - a future that might even include leaving Las Vegas for western Pennsylvania again.

It worked out pretty well the first time around.

So well, in fact, that his sister, Kim, is already at Geneva, and his youngest sister, Sarah, has committed to join Geneva's softball program in the fall.