Their on-field demeanor doesn't always come across as warm, but to know Alexis Cooper of Sheldon High School and Rowdy Tellez of Elk Grove is to understand their drive for perfection.
Cooper and Tellez compete with an edge and express it freely. They walk with a swagger, have an air of confidence and have an unquenchable thirst to succeed.
Cooper and Tellez are The Bee's 2012 Softball and Baseball Players of the Year for their on-field production, and yes their postgame sportsmanship. It was common for their respective coaches to field calls or emails from spectators who admired the efforts and postgame candor of Cooper and Tellez.
Engaging off the field, Cooper and Tellez admit they transform once in uniform, and they laughed about it with family and friends during a Bee photo shoot Monday.
An imposing 6-foot senior slugger and pitching ace, Cooper took it personally when her Huskies backed into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs as the third-place team in the Delta River League. And then she did something about it. The Arizona State-bound Cooper went unbeaten in the postseason to lead Sheldon to a section title repeat. She was 19-7 on the season and batted .379 with 34 RBIs.
A 6-4, 225-pound junior, Tellez was the MVP of the region's top league, the Delta Valley Conference. Projected as a first-round pick in next year's major league draft, the left-handed first baseman attracted crowds and professional scouts. Tellez batted .571 with eight doubles, three triples, six home runs and 46 RBIs.
Tellez's highlight of the season was a go-ahead home run in the rain that landed over the right-field berm at Raley Field to beat Rodriguez of Fairfield.
"Rowdy has great power and is such a specimen to go with the great bat speed and swing mechanics," Elk Grove coach Jeff Carlson said. "The biggest thing about Rowdy is his work ethic. He loves the game, loves to work on it. That sets him apart. Sometimes he gets a bad rap because he does show emotion on the field, but he's extremely hard on himself because he wants to be the best."
Sheldon softball coach Mary Jo Truesdale echoed a similar sentiment about Cooper.
"Alexis is an extremely hard worker, a leader, a very caring person always looking out for the team," Truesdale said. "She has a quiet tenacity. You could just see it on the mound. In the playoffs, she kept saying, 'We can do this. We can win it.' Coop just had that fight in her and wasn't going to give up."
Cooper summed up the Sheldon regular season as "crazy." As a pitcher, she suffered losses of 9-0 and 10-0.
"I took it hard and felt like I was letting my team down, wasn't doing enough," Cooper said. "But I learned you give it an hour after the game and let it go. You learn and move on or it'll really get to you. We got better and I got better."
Tellez enters a busy summer of travel-team baseball, where he'll continue to be scrutinized by major league scouts.
Even when nobody is watching, Tellez will still be working.
"You can always get better because somewhere there's someone working harder," Tellez said. "I definitely have a drive for this game. It means everything to me. I know it's a game of failure because you can't always get a hit, but you have to be positive even if it doesn't look that way."
Asked to summarize his season, Tellez grinned and said, "I wasn't half bad. This is my life. I love it."