In 30 years of covering high school baseball in Southern California, I've seen Jack McDowell intimidate hitters with a frightening scowl, Bret Saberhagen throw a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, Jeff Suppan dominate with pinpoint control, Randy Wolf throw an unhittable curveball and Roger Salkeld and Matt Harrington unleash fastballs well beyond 90 mph on their way to becoming first-round draft picks.
So it takes a lot to make an indelible impression, but that's what Pasadena Poly pitcher Rob Rasmussen accomplished last week when he struck out 20 batters in a 5-1 seven-inning victory over Glendale.
It was an extraordinary achievement, considering that only two Glendale players managed to hit the ball into fair territory. One got an infield single and was thrown out trying to steal second base. The other hit a double.
Never before had I seen a game in which there were no fly-ball outs, no ground-ball outs and no pop-ups.
For one memorable day, Rasmussen felt invincible.
"We had a week off," he said. "I said, 'This is my week to work out.' I really tried to perfect everything on my own, watching tapes."
There were three scouts with radar guns in the bleachers, including UCLA Coach John Savage, who signed Rasmussen in November.
"Wow," was Savage's response after Rasmussen's 20th strikeout ended the game. He was throwing a 91 mph fastball in the first inning and ended it with a 90 mph fastball in the seventh. His ability to maintain his velocity added to the special moment.
"You're just looking at the mitt and thinking, 'If I can hit my spots, they're not going to hit it,' " Rasmussen said. "It's a great feeling to put it where you want, and to have them not hit it is even better."
Rasmussen, a senior left-hander who turned 18 the day before his school-record strikeout performance, has a 31-2 record in his career. He entered this weekend with 82 strikeouts in 35 innings.
Last season, he stopped pitching in April after a stress fracture in his lower back was discovered, and he didn't return to the mound until the middle of the summer.
He could become a hero to the many players at small schools who often don't receive a lot of respect because of the level of their competition. Add the fact that he's only 5 feet 11 and 155 pounds, and you begin to understand the obstacles he has been forced to overcome.
"Small schools and height are things I like to fight," he said. "It's things I like to prove. It's things when I'm working out, I'm thinking about because you know you're going to get bashed for being at a small school or being small. It's nice that I'm left-handed. That's the one thing I have. Even if you're small and left-handed, they'll still look at you."
Having skepticism about someone who turns in an outstanding performance for a small school is nothing new. The competition isn't as strong, but athletes who appreciate the academic advantages have found ways to prove their playing ability in summer camps and during summer competitions. That's what Rasmussen has done.
"The challenge is we get discredited," he said. "The reason I go here is academics. You can't let it get under your skin. Pitching is the one thing if someone comes and sees you, they can tell if you're good or not.
"It's never been a big concern of mine playing at a small school. I've known playing on the right summer team would get me where I want to be."
Rasmussen has been attending Poly, a private school with 360 high school students, since seventh grade. He has a 3.4 grade-point average, and his academic success gave him many options for college.
"Your education is invaluable," he said. "I had a lot of doors open, and I think I'm really prepared for college."
Rasmussen might be the best pitcher to come out of a small school since Russell Ortiz graduated from Van Nuys Montclair Prep in 1992. Before that, you have to go back to 1987, when Jeff Cirillo of Burbank Providence was earning all-star recognition for his bat and arm.
Both are still playing in the major leagues and helped to show that talent exists at the small-schools level. And Rasmussen is proving it again.
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at email@example.com.
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