A Hitter Who Loves to Pitch : But Western’s Tranberg Will Be Swinging Away in 3-A Final Against Rio Mesa

Times Staff Writer

Mark Tranberg, Western High School’s designated hitter and cleanup hitter, has been cleaning up in the Southern Section baseball playoffs with two home runs and six RBIs in four games.

The right-hand hitter has a natural swing and generates plenty of power from his 6-foot 3-inch, 195-pound frame.

During the regular season, he was the team’s most consistent hitter, batting .372 with three homers and 26 RBIs to help the Pioneers win the Orange League championship.

But if Tranberg had his way, he’d be on the mound at 4:30 this afternoon in Dodger Stadium for Western’s 3-A division championship game against Rio Mesa.

His first love is pitching.

“I’ve been a pitcher since I was 8 years old playing in the Buena Park American Little League,” Tranberg said. “I thought I would be a pitcher here.


“I pitched almost every game on the junior varsity last year, but with Dave (Tellers) and Rich (Lodding) coming back, I knew there wasn’t much chance of pitching on the varsity this year.”

Tranberg compiled a 10-2 record on the JV team, but Lodding and Tellers have been starters for three years on the Pioneers’ varsity team. They won 23 of the Pioneers’ 26 games this season.

When the 1986 season opened, Tranberg found that he couldn’t even break into the lineup. After Western lost its first two games against Katella and Dana Hills in the Loara Tournament, Tranberg finally got his chance.

He hit a pinch-hit double in the Pioneers’ third game, against San Clemente, and then Coach Dave Bowman inserted him into the lineup as the team’s designated hitter.

It was a good move.

“I’ve never had a No. 4 hitter who was as consistent as Mark in my four years here,” Bowman said. “He’s been, by far, the biggest surprise of the season.”

Tranberg even got to do a little pitching. He earned a victory against Savanna and lost, 2-1, to Pomona. But with Lodding and Tellers on the staff, he’s served primarily as the team’s batting-practice pitcher.

“Mark would be a starting pitcher for just about any other school in the county,” Bowman said. “He throws just as hard as Lodding.

“He has a great forkball. Both Cypress and Fullerton colleges are interested in him as a pitcher. He has the option of being a hitter or a pitcher in college. How many other players can say that?”

Tranberg maintained a good attitude throughout the season despite his limited pitching appearances. He worked out four times a week during the summer, lifting weights to increase his power.

Before each game, he invests $3 at Home Run Park in Anaheim, where he cranks up the pitching machine to 90 m.p.h. to practice his swing. He has accepted his role as the team’s designated hitter.

“I rarely sit down while the team is on the field,” he said. “I try to encourage everyone and keep my mind in the game. I want to pitch, but with Dave and Rich doing such a great job, I understand.”

Tellers, who will start today’s game with an 11-1 record and 28 career victories, was Tranberg’s main adversary during their Little League days.

“We pitched against each other for the championship of our Little League,” Tranberg said. “He beat me, but I hit a home run off of him. We’ve been good friends ever since.”

Tranberg, who is hitting .400 in the playoffs, said he doesn’t feel any pressure in the single-elimination tournament.

“I’ve been a little nervous before each game, but once I get to the plate, I generally try to concentrate on hitting the ball,” he said. “I was real nervous against Tustin because I had heard so much about (Steve) Surico.”

Tranberg got over his nervousness quickly. He belted Surico’s 0-2 fastball for a three-run homer in his first plate appearance to give the Pioneers a 3-1 victory in the quarterfinals.

Four days later, he hit a 390-foot homer in Glover Stadium in a 7-1 semifinal victory over El Segundo.

Bowman believes his cleanup hitter is still developing physically and is just starting to reach his potential.

“Mark looks sort of gangly at the plate,” Bowman said. “He’s like a new colt finding his legs. He’s very young, physically.”

3-A Notes

Western (26-4) is making its first appearance in a championship game since 1963, when former Dodger and Angel star Andy Messersmith was pitching for the Pioneers. Rio Mesa (24-4) has advanced to a title game five of the past seven years, winning 1-A titles in 1980 and 1981 and the 3-A title last year. The Spartans ended the county’s domination of the 3-A division last year after Santa Ana (1982), Loara (1983) and Canyon (1984) had won consecutive titles. . . . First baseman Sean Luft (.432, eight homers, 33 RBIs) and shortstop Heath DeLatorre (.424, six homers, 31 RBIs) lead Rio Mesa. Phil Maquinalez (9-2, 2.10 earned-run average) will start for the Braves. Maquinalez has hit five homers. The Braves have averaged more than nine runs per game in the playoffs. . . . In 20 games, Western has allowed two runs or less, and the Pioneers have allowed only five runs in four playoff games. . . . Bowman has won 62 games in the last three years to lead county coaches. Sonora’s Gordon Blakeley (61) and Esperanza’s Mike Curran (60) are next. The trio will coach the North team in the Orange County All-Star baseball game on June 10 in Glover Stadium.