Best at second not second best

When sophomore second baseman Jack Marder of Newbury Park was playing youth baseball, he never gave his mother a day off from laundry duties.

"I would never come home not dirty," he said. "I would slide on the dirt just so my mom had to clean the uniform. I wanted people to know I wanted to get dirty or was willing to get dirty."

Junior second baseman Ricky Alvarez of San Fernando wishes he could be taller. Then he uses his small stature and comments from skeptics as motivation to pump himself up.

"I try harder and show them height isn't a disadvantage to me," he said.

Junior second baseman Matt Akiyama of Torrance Bishop Montgomery enjoys meeting people who underestimate him because of his size.

"A lot of guys say, 'If you don't have the size, you won't be able to play D-I baseball,' " he said. "If you hustle, nothing can stop you."

Marder, Alvarez and Akiyama are small, fearless infielders who defy stereotypes and continue to show that second basemen don't have to be the weak link in an infield.

It's the first day of Little League, and the coach gathers all his players and tells them to go to the position they want to play. Suddenly, shortstop and pitcher are overloaded with volunteers. No one wants to be the second baseman. Then the coach usually asks the smallest kid with the weakest arm to play second base.

That's the stereotype second basemen must deal with until they reach high school, when arm strength and hitting ability start to matter.

Marder, 5 feet 9 and 150 pounds, has become one of the most dangerous hitters in the Marmonte League. He batted .398 as the No. 2 batter behind All-Southern Section pitcher-first baseman Andrew Lambo.

Coaches used to intentionally walk Lambo to pitch to Marder with men in scoring position. But Marder kept making that strategy look foolish with clutch hits.

"I'm not going to take it personally," Marder said. "Lambo is one of the best. I looked at it as a challenge that I'm going to prove them wrong."

With a 3.9 grade-point average and a passion for baseball, Marder is a coach's dream. Who wouldn't want someone who tells people, "I wanted to be that kid who gets pine tar on him."

Said Newbury Park Coach Scott Drootin: "Jack Marder is a coach on the field. Whenever I want something to happen, I go through Jack."

Marder was put at second base early in his career because of his size, but he insists that's no way to choose a second baseman.

"It's not a position where you can say, 'Let's stick some kid there who's small,' " he said. "You have to be able to handle bunts, do double playsÂ…. Catcher, middle infielders and center field are controlling positions where you have to show leadership."

Alvarez, 5-4 and 135 pounds, is batting .564 with 53 hits as the No. 2 batter for San Fernando (23-8).

So much for the illusion that second basemen are good for bunting and not much else.

"I wouldn't mind being 5-8 or 5-9," Alvarez said. "Being short is a disadvantage. They overlook you, but I don't let it get in my head. I show them I can play baseball."

Alvarez has the arm strength to play third, but San Fernando Coach Armando Gomez says second base figures to be his position in college, and he wants to prepare Alvarez.

"The kid loves the game," Gomez said. "He's going to make a college coach very happy. Don't let his size fool you."

Akiyama, 5-7 and 145, led Bishop Montgomery in hitting with a .358 average. He plays shortstop on his club teams, but second base is where he's needed for his high school team, and he has no regrets.

"It's an exciting position," he said. "You get to turn double plays and reposition yourself every play. Pitchers count on you."

Making the turn at second to complete the throw for a double play requires athleticism, if not acrobatic moves, proving that you can't hide an inferior player at second base.

"That's my favorite thing to do in baseball, turning double plays," Akiyama said.

Put Marder, Alvarez or Akiyama on a football field, and they might be overwhelmed. Give them a basketball, and they won't be dunking.

But hand them a glove and bat and watch the magic happen.

"I love baseball because anyone of any stature can do well," Marder said.

With Newbury Park's starting shortstop suspended, Marder will be asked to make his first varsity start at shortstop in today's Southern Section Division I playoff game against Newhall Hart.

Unsung second basemen everywhere will be rooting for him.


Eric Sondheimer can be reached at

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times