It's hard to imagine 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior right-hander Isaac Meza of Lake Balboa Birmingham trying to somersault. He looks like a teenage Paul Bunyan with a full beard and lineman-like physical stature. The one time he made an attempt to somersault as a freshman, it ended badly.
"We had a strength coach and he had us doing somersaults so when we got onto the field we'd be able to do movement," he said.
Meza's feeble attempt saw him land on the side of his shoulder.
"It was embarrassing," he said. "It was bad."
Luckily, the only time he might need to somersault these days is if Birmingham wins a City Section championship and he's celebrating at Dodger Stadium. The first step is finding a way to navigate through a series of tough games in the West Valley League that begin this week. When it comes to top pitchers in one league, the West Valley can more than hold its own.
There's Meza, who is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA. There's Chris Murphy of Granada Hills. He's 5-0 with 48 strikeouts in 27 innings. There's Jeremy Polon of Woodland Hills El Camino Real, the co-City player of the year last season. He's 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA. There's Sam Villa of Reseda Cleveland. He's 6-0 with a 0.71 ERA. There's Tommy Palomera of Chatsworth. He's 5-0 with a 0.41 ERA. There's Ryan Roche of Chatsworth. He's 4-0 with a 0.61 ERA.
"I'm going to have to be on top of my game with every start," Meza said. "It's going to be a dogfight."
Birmingham opens league play at home Wednesday against Chatsworth, which probably won't have Palomera, who has a knee injury.
Dealing with Meza is going to be a challenge for opponents. He's one of the most improved pitchers. Last season he was 6-2, 215 pounds and had 35 strikeouts and 24 walks in 50 innings. This season, with improved velocity and better command, he has 35 strikeouts and only seven walks in 34 innings. He has signed with Cal State Bakersfield and appears ready to challenge the best in league play.
"There's probably seven pitchers competing to be the top pitcher in the West Valley League," Birmingham Coach Matt Mowry said.
The surprise team so far has to be Cleveland, which is 16-1 and without its suspended head coach, Scott Drootin, who was sidelined after an incident with a player during practice. Former head coach Greg Venger is the interim coach helped by pitching coach Sid Lopez. There's no timetable for when or if Drootin is going to return. Venger said it's in the hands of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
El Camino Real (13-4) and Chatsworth (16-3) are the favorites, but the winner might be the team that is able to get past Granada Hills when Murphy is on the mound. The left-hander is the hardest thrower in the City Section, signed with the University of San Diego and is the City's best pro prospect.
And don't forget about Meza, the 17-year-old who will never be mistaken for a gymnast.
"This is the best I've ever pitched," he said.