If Jaylon McLaughlin didn’t have baseball in his blood, he certainly had it in his eyes.
Born when his father was playing the sport in college, McLaughlin was around the diamond from a very young age and quickly took a liking to it.
Indeed, baseball strengthened a bond that has blossomed over the years into a good-natured father-son rivalry.
“We’re really competitive,” said McLaughlin, a senior shortstop at Santa Monica High School, “so I always try to one-up him.”
McLaughlin made progress toward achieving that goal this month by signing a letter of intent to play at the University of Nevada.
The talented infielder was also recruited by Long Beach State, University of the Pacific and New Mexico State, but he verbally committed to the Wolf Pack in mid-September and ultimately kept his word.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted,” he said, adding that he chose Nevada because of the vibe he got from the coaching staff, the atmosphere of the Reno school and its proximity to Lake Tahoe. “My goal is to play professionally, so this puts me one step closer.”
McLaughlin will join a Nevada program that competes in Division I as a member of the Mountain West Conference. The Wolf Pack compiled a 41-15 overall record last year under then-coach Jay Johnson, capturing its first-ever outright conference title with a 22-7 mark in league play.
McLaughlin will aim to help the program build on its recent success under T.J. Bruce, who was hired in June to replace Johnson. Bruce, who was a standout shortstop at Bellflower-St. John Bosco, served as an assistant coach at UCLA when the Bruins won the 2013 College World Series.
As an out-of-state recruit, McLaughlin is bringing his skills to a program that currently features 20 other players with California ties.
McLaughlin, who said he’s been swinging a bat since he was 3 years old, started playing organized baseball at age 6. He began his prep career at Westchester High School, batting .358 as a sophomore with 16 runs, nine stolen bases and four RBI in 22 games.
McLaughlin also took the opportunity to play baseball for a couple weeks in Australia that year through the Goodwill Series, an international sporting event for teenagers. That’s when the longtime second baseman realized how much he enjoyed playing shortstop.
“I like being a field general,” he said, “and I’ve always wanted to be like Derek Jeter.”
He transferred to Samohi as a junior, hitting .338 with 17 runs and 13 RBI this past season. One of the highlights of his campaign came in the second round of the CIF Southern Section playoffs, when he hit a two-run single in the ninth inning of the Vikings’ 3-1 win over Irvine-Northwood.
The senior is hoping to add to a family legacy that his father, Jason McLaughlin, cemented by playing baseball at what is now known as Colorado State-Pueblo. The elder McLaughlin hit .345 with 34 runs and 15 RBI in 2000 and batted .315 with 45 runs and 22 RBI in 2001.
But McLaughlin’s father, who has worked as an instructor in the MLB Urban Youth Academy, didn’t get the chance to play in the professional ranks.
“My goal is to get drafted,” McLaughlin said, “so I can one-up my dad.”