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Legends: Taking a swing with T.J. Soto

January 31, 2013

 

T.J. Soto with his wife Brittany and his kids Hunter and Lillian over a decade after his legendary career at Louisiana Tech. – Submitted photo

REINA KEMPT
Sports Editor

 

This is the third entry of a series about Tech’s most prominent athletes.

 

Louisiana Tech’s baseball season is right around the corner, and over the years it has become a prominent program. Tech baseball started to make a name for itself in 1997 when a local kid from Ruston stepped up to the plate. His name was T.J. Soto.

 

Soto’s natural athleticism, along with the guidance of coaches and his dad, developed him into an elite player at Ruston High School.

 

He received a scholarship to play right in his hometown at Louisiana Tech in 1997, and as a freshman was not expected to receive much playing time as he was announced as the backup outfielder. But in a critical moment, head coach Randy Davis took a chance on young Soto.

 

Third baseman Mitch McIlwain broke his finger just weeks before the start of the season and Davis called on Soto to make ends meet.

 

“Me getting to start as a freshman and have an All-American year was an accident,” Soto said. “McIlwain went down with an injury and I was asked to step in until he came back from injury. I came in and literally from the first at-bat I never lost my starting position.”

 

Soto ended his freshman campaign batting .325 with 13 home runs and 45 RBI while earning the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year honor and being named third-team freshman All-American. He also set school records for home runs, doubles (19), runs (44) and total bases (124) by a freshman.

 

Soto said Davis told him that his career at Tech was a building block for the growth of the program in the years to follow. If Soto wanted Tech to succeed, he would have to sacrifice quick results for longterm ones beyond his four years.

 

“It was a situation where knowing going into the season, being told by Davis that I was a part of building the program but I might not have the success to experience what Tech baseball is today,” Soto said.

 

Soto did just that as he hit 19 home runs in each of the next two seasons while earning all-conference honors. In 2000, Soto tied the Tech single-season mark with 21 home runs, two of which will go down in Bulldog baseball lore.

 

Soto recalls one the most memorable games of his career being a conference series against Western Kentucky as he set a record that guaranteed his legacy and has yet to be broken at Tech.

 

“My dad had driven the 12 hours up to watch the game,” Soto said. “I ended up hitting six home runs in the series. Three came in the second game and two of those were grand slams in one inning.”

 

After graduating from Tech with a degree in general studies, he was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 2000 MLB June Amateur Draft.

 

While playing in the minor leagues for five years, Soto got married and had two children. Soto retired from his baseball career to take care of his family.

 

Now in 2013, Soto can be found in Lexington, Ky. with his family as a successful businessman. He has been a part of four companies in his career but now he is heavily involved with a thriving company called Zija National.

 

“It is a nutritional product line, one of the best I’ve ever seen and one of the best I’ve ever taken,” Soto said. “It is all natural and all organic and it is doing special things for people.”

 

Soto said he is dedicating his future to the growth of the program.

 

“It is something that I’m passionate about,” Soto said. “Because of what it’s doing for people and the success we’ve had, I’m trying to move into it full time.”

 

Soto has seen success time and time again throughout his life, from his grand slam days at Tech to his accomplishments with Zija National.

 

Email comments to rjk007@latech.edu.

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