It was shortly after baseball practice in March and pitcher J.R. Phillips of Bishop Amat High was heading off the field when one of the school’s track coaches spotted him.
The coach told Phillips that injuries had left the team shorthanded in the mile relay and asked if he could run in the race.
Not only did Phillips run the first leg of the relay, he ran well enough to help Bishop Amat win the race for the decisive points in a dual-meet victory over Montclair.
Later Phillips was asked if he wanted to throw the discus in the Bishop Amat Relays in April but he declined. “If my (baseball) coach (had) found out he would have had my neck,” he said.
It is understandable why Coach Glenn Martinez does not want the 17-year-old junior competing in track during baseball season.
After all, Phillips is one of the best all-around players in the CIF Southern Section. The pitcher and outfielder is undoubtedly the biggest reason why Bishop Amat received the No. 3 seed in the CIF 4-A Division playoffs.
There are not many pitchers who can boast an 11-0 record, 1.81 earned-run average, 2 no-hitters, 9 complete games and 63 strikeouts in 73 innings.
Nor are there many hitters who have a .513 average with 8 home runs, 43 runs batted in and 7 stolen bases in 8 attempts. His home run and RBI figures are school records.
Despite the hitting statistics, Martinez said it is his pitching that has probably helped the team most.
“I guess the best way to look at it is with J.R. Phillips on the mound we’re 11-0 and without him we’re 9-4,” Martinez said. “Without a doubt, he’s the heart and soul of our team.
“The players respect him. When he’s on the mound his teammates don’t have any doubt. They know we’re going to win.”
Explains Phillips: “I think the team just gets up more when I’m pitching. They seem to be a little more relaxed. They seem to have more confidence and play their kind of game.”
It is easy to relax with a pitcher as dominating as Phillips. At 6-1 and 185 pounds, he has above-average speed and an excellent curve. “He also has a high kick (in his delivery) that distracts a lot of players,” Martinez said.
Phillips also plays well under pressure.
“I love to have pressure on me,” he says. “It doesn’t bother me. I like it more. That’s when I seem to be at my best.”
Phillips, who did not play as a freshman and was a reserve outfielder and pitcher as a sophomore, admits that his success has come as something of a surprise.
Martinez said that before this season he knew Phillips could hit but “his pitching has been a surprise.” The coach said, however, that he should have known what to expect from Phillips.
“He’s just a super athlete,” Martinez said. “He’s the kind of kid who does it all. I coached him in football, too, and I know what he can do.”
Besides playing baseball--and occasionally trying track--Phillips is also the starting quarterback in football and passed for 919 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
He was overshadowed by all-state running back Eric Bieniemy. But with Bieniemy heading for the University of Colorado next season, Phillips should be in the spotlight. He has received recruiting letters from several Pacific-10 schools.
Martinez said Phillips could play for a major college in either sport but may be slightly ahead in baseball.
“He had a good football year but it was a learning experience,” Martinez said. “In baseball it seemed to come more naturally for him.”
“I think I’m further along in baseball than I was in football, but that has to do with maturity,” Phillips said.
What sport does Phillips want to concentrate on after high school?
“Right now I would have to say baseball, but during football season I would probably say football,” he said.
A lot may depend on his grades, which Phillips admits could stand improvement.
“Given his academic status, he may be forced to play (pro) baseball,” Martinez said. “He’s not a dumb kid. He’s a great kid to be around. It’s just that his academic standing was a little down as a freshman and sophomore, so he’s not exactly where he should be.”
Phillips said he would like to go to college and that his class work has been improving lately.
“I know I’m making progress,” he said. “I have improved this quarter, and in my senior year I’m going to push for a 3.0 (average). I’m just a little lazy.”
Phillips, who has been scouted by several major league teams, including the Milwaukee Brewers, comes from a family of good baseball players.
“My father (Charles Sr.) was a semipro player and I also have an uncle who was a good pitcher but hurt his elbow at an early age,” Phillips said. His brother Mike, 15, is one of the leading hitters on Rowland High’s freshman team.