April 25, 2008
Autographs can become very valuable. Just ask someone who got reclusive Dodger Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax to sign a baseball.
That's why kids are coming up to some high school players with pens, programs and balls, hoping they've discovered a future pot of gold.
Those looking for a sure thing might want to stop by Malibu High, and not simply to enjoy the surf at Zuma Beach.
Senior catcher Stephen Williams, a four-year starter who has hit seven home runs, one short of the team record, is a can't-miss prospect -- in the classroom. He has never received a grade other than A on his high school report card. He can discuss nuclear fission at lunch, then spend an hour talking about hitting a curveball.
"Stephen is a special guy," Coach Paul Gallo said.
It's hard enough to predict a future Hall of Famer. It's even harder to guess which teenager might eventually win a Nobel Prize.
But don't say anything is impossible for Williams, who's 5 feet 10, 200 pounds and has lived most of his life on the campus of Pepperdine University, where his father, Robert, is a political science professor.
Williams has successfully moved back and forth between two different worlds -- jock and nerd.
"My physics teacher at Malibu is up on everyone in sports, so maybe there's hope for me," he said.
Williams is a dedicated baseball player who works on the sport year-round. He runs, lifts weights, watches games and plays on a scout team against top competition.
And yet, when the decision comes to selecting a college, baseball will receive the least consideration.
"I made a choice a long time ago that I'd much rather go to a school based on academics more than baseball," he said. "I honestly have no regrets focusing on my studies.
"I'm not willing to sacrifice any part of my education in order to pursue playing baseball at the so-called baseball schools. I would classify myself as a student-athlete."
Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago and John Hopkins are the three finalists Williams is considering. He can see himself one day becoming a college professor, focusing on teaching and research, possibly in physics.
Growing up on a college campus has provided him experiences he cherishes.
"It's exposed me to a whole lot of different groups, whether frat party people or serious students," he said.
His father invites students from one of his upper-division ethics in international politics classes to come to the family home, and Williams has sat in on the conversations.
"I've been able to look in and be part of a serious academic atmosphere and see how people conduct themselves . . . the best and brightest Pepperdine has to offer," he said. "Being exposed to that has been influential on how I conduct myself as a person, on the baseball field and at school."
Another benefit for Williams was the opportunity to live in Florence, Italy, for several months as part of a Pepperdine study program in which his father participated. Williams was 13 at the time.
"It was something that fundamentally changed how you view the world," he said of the culture and language experiences.
He and his older brother, Daniel, a former Malibu baseball standout who now attends Pepperdine, found some Italian teenagers to play baseball with.
"Italians are decent baseball players, but I think we could have taken them," he said.
There's no telling when Williams' baseball days will end, but something tells me we'll be learning and hearing from him for many years to come.
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