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SOUTHERN SECTION BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : Klesko Comes a Long Way in a Short Time to Become Westminster’s Fresh Face

Times Staff Writer

Some important dates coming up on Ryan Klesko’s calendar:

Today--Play in first CIF Southern Section baseball playoff game.

Thursday, June 12--Celebrate 15th birthday.

Klesko has grown up fast. In a matter of months, he has made the climb it takes some high school players years to complete. As a freshman, he has not only earned a spot on the Westminster High School varsity roster, but has emerged as one of his team’s most valuable players.

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Entering today’s 4-A playoff game at St. Paul High School, Klesko is the Lions’ leading hitter and pitcher. His coach, Bill Whiteley, calls him a pro prospect. Any thoughts of a pro career will have to wait awhile, though. There is unfinished business--like a driver’s license, facial hair and three more years of high school--to tend to.

Klesko is a bit younger than most of his teammates. How much younger?

“I’ve known most of them for a while,” he said. “I used to go down and watch them play when I was little.”

There was a time when some of those old-timers were a little leery of this new kid who skipped the freshman and junior varsity levels and went straight to the prep big time. A freshman is bound to encounter a little uneasiness from his older teammates.

“In the beginning, there was a little,” Whiteley said. “But when they say how much he could help our team, no.”

With a bat or a ball in his hands, Klesko comes across as being much older. In 18 games Klesko has hit .440 with four doubles, a triple and a home run. As a pitcher, he is 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Sunset League, with 35 strikeouts in 41 innings. Whiteley said Klesko is a big reason the Lions (15-8 overall) finished second behind Ocean View in the league.

Whiteley gave Klesko his first break last winter when he allowed him to enroll in a seventh-period athletics class usually reserved for sophomores, juniors and seniors. “He was outstanding then ,” Whiteley said.

Said Klesko: “He just put me in the class. When they split the teams into JV and freshmen, he put me down on the freshman team for a little while. Then he asked me if I wanted to play (varsity). He gave me a couple of days to think about it.”

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Once all the decisions were made, the time came for Klesko’s first varsity at-bat in a nonleague game against Bolsa Grande on Feb. 25.

“I was nervous,” he said. “I don’t even remember what I did. I just tried to hit the ball.”

Whiteley remembers. “He hit a line-drive single. He ended up 2 for 4--both line-drive singles.”

Things always have come rather naturally for Klesko on the baseball field. Example: In his Little League career, he threw left-handed and batted right-handed. At the urging of a coach at a pitching school, he made himself a left-handed hitter.

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Klesko makes it look easy. This season, he has made having an impact as a freshman look easy.

“He’s responded well, and the kids on the team have responded well to him,” Whiteley said. “Now, it’s just a matter of him getting a little more intelligent about the game, and that will come with experience.”


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