Greg Pirkl, Los Alamitos High School's power-hitting catcher, had pitched and played first base throughout his career, but when Coach Mike Gibson suggested that he try catching, Pirkl accepted the challenge.
Pirkl went to a neighborhood sporting goods store to purchase a catcher's gloveand equipment to begin the first step of the transition. There, he met owner Sheldon Rocha, a former coach at John Glenn High, and a career was born.
"I went in to buy a glove and wound up getting a catching coach and a job at the store," Pirkl said. "I owe Sheldon Rocha the world."
Pirkl, 6-feet 5-inches and 190 pounds, began a daily routine under Rocha last summer in which he lifted weights to increase his arm strength, ran sprints to improve his quickness and spent five hours daily working to improve his hitting and catching skills.
"I wanted to become a better player and sometimes would get frustrated playing a new position," Pirkl said. "Whenever I got down, Sheldon kept me up. He was always there."
Pirkl set some lofty goals before the start of the 1988 baseball season.
He aspired to hit 100 points higher than his .364 average as a junior. He also wanted to double his totals for home runs (3) and RBIs (18), and steal 10 or more bases.
Pirkl stole only one base. But it was the only shortcoming in an outstanding season in which he was among the county's leaders in average (.549), home runs (10), doubles (13) and RBIs (39).
Pirkl, The Times' baseball player of the year, expected a great season after working hard during the summer to learn a new position, but admitted he was surprised by the outcome.
"I expected so much out of myself, but I was very pleased with my season," he said. "I think I had only a week or two where I batted under .500. Still, I think I could have been a little more disciplined at the plate."
Pirkl's season was culminated last Wednesday when he was drafted in the second round of baseball's amateur draft by the Seattle Mariners.
Pirkl was the 40th player selected and the first high school catcher chosen.
"I've always dreamed of being drafted and was pleased to go in the second round," he said. "I think about the days I practiced or worked out when I was sick or in pain and it's a good feeling to know all the hard work paid off."
Pirkl has met with representatives from Seattle and could sign with the team as early as June 20. He also has a scholarship offer to attend USC. But Pirkl's only current plans are to play in the Orange County All-Star baseball game June 14 at Anaheim's Glover Stadium.
He will graduate June 22, but hasn't had much time to participate in senior activities.
"Everything is so stressful right now," he said. "I'm trying to make a big decision regarding my future in a matter of days. So many people think I'm just going to take the money and play ball, but I'm trying to explore all my options.
"The truth is, everything has been so hectic, I haven't had time to think about graduation."
Pirkl points with pride that he threw out 25 baserunners in his first year as a catcher. He had caught only one game as a 14-year-old before this season.
But his most lasting memory of the 1988 season was a 2-0 victory over El Dorado, which was ranked No. 1 in the county at the time.
"When I look back, that was the best moment of the season," he said.
Colby hit 29 doubles, finishing second on the Southern Section's career list behind Brian Greer of Sonora in 1974-77, who had 30. Colby's .468 average was second to Jeff Gardner's school-record .477 in 1982. Colby set single-season school records for doubles (29) and RBIs (34). He also was 7-4 with 60 strikeouts. 1988 batting record
Smedes was prolific on both the mound and the plate. He hit three home runs in a game against Laguna Beach and batted .411. Smedes, a left-hander who was 7-2, earned a scholarship to USC. Smedes won 7 straight games and helped the Hawks win 14 straight games before losing to Dana Hills in the playoffs. 1988 pitching record
Edwards finished second on the county's career base-hit list, with 113 to finish behind Jeff Osborne of La Quinta, who had 116 hits in 1982-84. Edwards started at catcher as a junior, but made a successful transition to shortstop and led all county hitters with a .570 average. He has signed with the University of Utah. 1988 batting record
Saunders was the county's most complete player. He batted .495 with 17 stolen bases in 18 attempts and hit 9 homers. He struck out 41 in 30 innings with 8 saves. Saunders set single-season school marks for saves (8), runs (39), hits (46) and doubles (10). He signed with University of Illinois and was drafted by the Mets. 1988 batting record
Cummings led the county with 113 strikeouts in 74 innings, utilizing a hard knuckle-curveball that kept opposing hitters off stride. He was also hit .427 with 3 homers and 27 RBIs. Cummings was the winning pitcher in playoff victories over Western and Upland, allowing only two runs. He has signed a national letter of intent with USC. 1988 pitching record
Wilson was 29-8 in three varsity seasons. He combined a good fastball and curveball, striking out 82. He threw a no-hitter against Santiago as a junior and allowed only 54 hits in 83 innings as a senior. Wilson signed with the University of Arizona, becoming the sixth La Quinta player to sign with a Pacific 10 school in eight years. 1988 pitching record
Keller was named most valuable player of the Empire League with Los Alamitos catcher Greg Pirkl. Keller hit eight home runs, second behind former second baseman Bret Boone (10), on the school's single-season list. Among Keller's home runs was a towering 420-foot homer against Katella over the trees at Boysen Park. 1988 batting record
Pena's only defeat was a 4-3 loss to Bishop Montgomery in the opening game of Angelus League play. The right-hander is the only junior on the first team and has started for two seasons, compiling a 12-3 career mark. Pena's most impressive outing was a three-hit shutout against Servite in a 10-0 victory. 1988 pitching record
Austin established school season records for home runs (9) and career (18) and RBIs (43). He was named Angelus League player of the year, and was a three-year starter. Austin played football for two seasons and was most valuable player on sophomore team, but quit to play baseball. He will attend Arizona State. 1988 batting record
Lane was a four-year starter and earned all-league honors in three seasons. He established a school record with nine home runs this season and committed only two errors at shortstop. Lane passed for 1,877 yards and 17 touchdowns as quarterback and also has a 3.6 grade-point average. He will attend UC Santa Barbara next year. 1988 batting record
Saldana was a three-year varsity member and helped lead the Roadrunners to two consecutive Sea View League titles. The right fielder led the team with 37 hits and scored 27 runs. Saldana hit two home runs against Dana Hills in the 3-A quarterfinals. Saldana has made an oral commitment to attend Rancho Santiago College. 1988 batting record
Robertson is the only repeat selection from last year's first team. Robertson established a Southern Section record with 41 walks, breaking the mark of 38 established by Tom Redington of Esperanza last season. Robertson has signed a national letter of intent to play at USC and was also drafted by the Angels. 1988 batting record
Szymanski played every position but first base and catcher for Servite during the past two years. He split time between shortstop and second base and committed only one error. Szymanski also had a 2-1 record as a pitcher, compiling a 2.30 earned-run average. His father, Tom, is a football official in the Pacific-10. 1988 batting record
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Catcher, Los Alamitos
FIRST TEAM SECOND TEAM PITCHERS John Cummings Canyon Ward Lookabaugh Orange Lutheran Tony Pena Mater Dei Kevin Schula El Dorado Mike Smedes Laguna Hills Brian Walker Capistrano Valley Mike Wilson La Quinta Winnie Wolf Los Alamitos CATCHER Greg Pirkl Los Alamitos Julio Vargas Santa Ana FIRST BASEMAN Conrad Colby Estancia Ryan Klesko Westminster INFIELDERS Mike Edwards Valencia Adam Brass El Toro Danny Lane Laguna Beach Mitch Kaylor Sonora Doug Saunders Esperanza Sean Therien Saddleback OUTFIELDERS Jim Austin Mater Dei Mark Brenner Ocean View Mike Robertson Servite Chris Facione El Dorado George Saldana Saddleback Jeff Manship Fullerton UTILITY Tom Szymanski Servite Mark Dion La Quinta DESIGNATED HITTER Eddie Keller El Dorado Jim Short Esperanza