Prep baseball players hope for grand prize of trip to Dodger Stadium

Prep baseball players hope for grand prize of trip to Dodger Stadium
Birmingham's Alexis Miranda, left, makes a jumping catch of a line drive as teammate Victor Robles looks on during Friday's win over Granada Hills Kennedy. Birmingham will play Narbonne in the City Section Division I semifinals at USC on Tuesday. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

It's the week for the most emotional high or worst low of the high school baseball season.

Tuesday's Southern Section Division 1 semifinals at Blair Field in Long Beach and the City Section Division I semifinals at USC offer the greatest reward for the winners — a trip to Dodger Stadium.

There's so much at stake that in many ways, semifinals present far more pressure on the participants than any final. Tears flow among players who lose in the semifinals because they've come so close to getting that trip to play in a setting they've dreamed about for years.

"Semis is an incredible place to be," said Santa Ana Foothill Coach Vince Brown. "I've lost four times in the semis and won a couple times. Semis is always emotional because you're so darn close. It's definitely the point where the most emotion comes out. It's either reaching your dream or falling a bit short."


Foothill is having a season few envisioned. The team finished last in the Century League last season. Brown, the former athletic director who hadn't coached in 10 years, took over this season as head coach. Now the Knights have to get past only No. 1-seeded San Juan Capistrano JSerra to reach the final. Game time is 4 p.m. The other semifinal is Santa Margarita playing Trabuco Hills at 7 p.m. at Blair Field.

Adding to the intrigue is that JSerra has two former Foothill players, Brady Shockey and Ryan Pena, in the starting lineup. It will be friend against friend for the chance to have fun in Friday's 8 p.m. championship game at Dodger Stadium.

In the City Section, the Division I semifinals have Chatsworth playing Palisades at 3 p.m. and Narbonne facing Birmingham at 6 p.m. at USC. The winners advance to Saturday's 1 p.m. final at Dodger Stadium.

San Fernando All-City pitcher Alonzo Garcia knows exactly the feelings players could experience. He lost in the semifinals as a sophomore.

"We all cried," he said. "It was very tough."

He won in the semifinals as a junior.

"You're so close and want it to so bad," he said. "Last year I got a taste of winning and getting to Dodger Stadium. It's the best feeling in the world. It's the ultimate goal to get to Dodger Stadium and win it, but playing at Dodger Stadium is everyone's dream."

Also earning a trip to Dodger Stadium with wins Tuesday will be semifinalists in Division 2 and 3 in the Southern Section. The City Section Division II semifinalists play Monday at USC and also can make it with wins.

As if players don't have enough of a challenge dealing with the mental pressure, there's also the challenge of playing on fields with much larger dimensions. Catchers have to be at their best in blocking balls in the dirt. Ditto for first basemen. And hitters can't be going for home runs, because the balls will end up being fly-ball outs.

Pitchers are the ones who enjoy the semifinals most. They can throw strikes and let their fielders do the rest.

Finally, it's best to save the dog pile for the final. No one wants to get injured in a semifinal dog pile. That may be even worse than losing.