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A BLAST FROM THE PAST : Golden West College Pitcher Gary Buckels May Have Found That Relieving in ‘80s Could Help His Future

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Times Staff Writer

Gary Buckels may be a teen-ager living in the trendy, new-wave ‘80s, but his tastes are right out of the nostalgic ‘50s.

He collects albums not by Elvis Costello, but by Elvis Presley. His hair is not punked out or preppy, but styled in a semi-crew cut. And his code of behavior, which includes no drinking, smoking or swearing and an adherence to traditional values, is more in line with Pat Boone than Prince.

In fact, the Golden West College relief pitcher is so enamored with the ‘50s, you’re almost afraid to tell him Ike isn’t president anymore or that “Happy Days” is canceled.

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“I like everything about that time,” Buckels said. “The music was good, people were closer, they had fun and they still had morals. It would have been a good time to grow up in.”

But don’t accuse, Buckels, 19, of living in the past, even though opponents probably wish he did. Reminiscing about a bygone era is a hobby for him; his real interest is saving games for the Rustlers.

Buckels is regarded as the best reliever in the South Coast Conference, a league where the hitters dominate, .300 team batting averages are common and the runs come as easy as they do in a cheap pair of nylons.

Keeping that in mind, Buckels’ statistics are that much more impressive. He has a 3-0 record with 6 saves, a 2.44 earned-run average and 37 strikeouts in 48 innings.

But what Fred Hoover, Golden West’s coach, admires most about the sophomore right-hander is his durability. Buckels has appeared in 22 of the Rustlers’ 26 games, so there’s not much suspense as to who Hoover is bringing in from the bullpen when he goes to the mound to make a change.

Buckels is Golden West’s short man, long man and in-between man. He has been used not only often, but in every situation in helping Golden West move into sole possession of second place behind Cerritos.

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Lately, however, Buckels has been saved for the late innings, and that’s when he likes pitching best. He is competitive and tenacious by nature, and those qualities are readily apparent when he’s working in the eighth or ninth innings of a close game.

“A starter has no pressure on him. He can come out and make some mistakes because the score is 0-0 and it’s early,” Buckels said. “I like to relieve because you have the pressure not to make any mistakes, and that fires me up.

“When I get out there, I look at the batters and say to myself, ‘You’re not going to get on.’ Then I go right after them and throw strikes.”

Buckels was a prep star at Huntington Beach High School and was the Most Valuable Player of the Sunset League in 1983, when the Oilers won the league title. In those days, though, Buckels was a starting pitcher and he planned on remaining one when he came to Golden West last year.

But because the Rustlers had an over-abundance of pitchers, Buckels, a good all-around athlete, was asked to play center field, and he turned in a solid if unspectacular season, batting .301.

Last summer in the Metro League, he returned to pitching, but again was asked to make an adjustment by Hoover. He was asked to try relieving.

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And, immediately, Buckels was a success. His ability to warm up quickly and throw strikes proved to Hoover that the bullpen is where Buckels belonged.

“I knew Gary would be good as a reliever, and I think he has a real future there as far as continuing at a major college goes,” said Hoover, who is in his 19th year at Golden West. “He has every quality of a good relief pitcher. He can be ready in 10 minutes and when he comes in he throws strikes.”

How did Buckels react to being moved to the bullpen?

“They said right away that they would use me a lot, so it didn’t bother me a bit,” he said. “I just wanted to pitch again.

“It took some work to be comfortable relieving, but I’m comfortable now.”

Myron Pines, the former Pacifica High School coach who is Golden West’s pitching coach, spent a lot of time with Buckels working on his mechanics to help with the transition.

Pines altered Buckels’ delivery slightly, improved his follow-through and had him pitch from the right side of the rubber, so that he throws at more of an angle to the plate.

“Those were just minor things,” Pines said. “The best assets Gary has are the fact he is a good athlete and that he is very competitive. It takes a certain person to do what he has, and he has the perfect attitude to be a reliever.”

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Buckels’ repertoire includes a fastball, slider, occasional changeup and his “out pitch,” the knuckleball. He throws that only when ahead on the count, and it’s next to impossible to hit.

“That pitch makes him the best reliever in the conference,” said Scott Pickler, Cypress coach. “It really drops.”

Buckels had gained admiration not only from opposing batters and coaches, but from college scouts as well. According to Hoover, Arizona is most interested in Buckels, followed by Texas El Paso and Houston.

Of course, getting a scholarship to one of those schools would mean Buckels would have to leave Southern California. But his collection of ‘50s memorabilia, including his cherished original Elvis album collection, will go wherever he does.

“I’ve spent a lot of money on my collection,” said Buckels, who works part-time as a box boy at a local supermarket. “My dad used to kid me about all the money I spent on ‘50s albums and posters.

“But now he doesn’t because some of the albums are worth a lot more than I paid for them. I guess that’s because the ‘50s are coming back, and that’s fine with me.”

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