Coaches in the City Western League are already calling this a bit of a down year for baseball, and league play hasn’t even begun. Rebuilding and inexperience are the terms often used.
If this isn’t the best crop of league teams to pop up in recent years, there still is a constant. Mission Bay, the defending league champion, has been picked by the coaches to win the title. As usual.
So Dennis Pugh, Mission Bay’s coach, is back in a familiar position. And it doesn’t faze him.
“There’s not much you can do about it,” he said. “You have to play all 15 games.”
USDHS figures to give Mission Bay its biggest challenge, if its pitching holds up. That will probably be the key for most of the teams, as no dominant pitchers have emerged in the early season.
Last season: 19-7, 11-4 league (second).
Coach: Dick Huddleston.
Top returners: Robert Grasso (senior, 1B); Taj Tedrow (senior, catcher); Luke Williams (senior, P/OF/3B).
Top newcomer: Gary Frank (junior, DH).
Outlook: Made up of mostly sophomores and juniors, La Jolla probably is a year away from contending. The Vikings need big years from Williams, a pitcher with a good fastball who has learned to change speeds effectively since last season, and Tedrow, who should provide the bulk of the team’s power at the plate. Also important will be Grasso, an outstanding defensive first baseman who is expected to hit for a high average.
Last season: 9-16, 3-12 league (sixth).
Coach: Allan LaMotte.
Top returners: Jeff Sevier (senior, P); Steve Calvao (senior, LF).
Top newcomers: Brett Punches (senior, RF).
Outlook: University City, which finished last last season, has been plagued with inconsistency during the early season, and LaMotte has been doing some shuffling. The Centurions are young, still looking for a second starting pitcher to complement ace right-hander Sevier, and have had communication and fielding problems in the outfield. Calvao, a versatile infielder who hit .333 in summer league, has been moved to left field to add experience.
Last season: 16-9, 10-5 league (third).
Coach: Dick Serrano.
Top returners: Tony Moeder (senior, CF); Jeff Desjardins (junior, SS/P); Steve Walker (senior, 2B).
Top newcomer: Sean Nugent (junior, LF).
Outlook: No varsity pitchers return, but most league coaches expect the team to contend for the title. Sophomore pitcher Gavin Millay has been impressive, but Serrano says his pitchers are losing composure after the fourth inning. Defense has been shaky early, but this young team, loaded with honor students, appears solid enough to iron out weaknesses by the start of league play.
Last season: 22-3-1, 12-3 league (first).
Coach: Dennis Pugh.
Top returners: Tony Lennan (senior, P/1B); Pat Betancourt (junior, 3B); Sean Darrock (senior, LF).
Top newcomer: Jim Thomas (senior, 1B).
Outlook: Mission Bay won the league and went on to take the 2-A championship last season and looks to be nearly as strong this year. Pugh calls it the best defensive team. Lennan, an offspeed pitcher who has been hot early, returns from an all-league season last year in which he hit .346. Betancourt, the team’s best athlete according to Pugh, figures to be a leader with his speed, strength and outstanding arm. And a vastly improved Darrock, who quit playing football and soccer this year to concentrate on baseball, should give Mission Bay a kick start at the plate.
Last season: 9-15-1, 5-10 league (fourth).
Coach: John Gunther.
Top returner: Dominique Dirksen (senior, C/IF).
Top newcomers: Rob Fragoso (junior, P/OF/1B); Jason Redondo (junior, 1B/OF/P).
Outlook: Might be a long season for Kearny, which is long on enthusiasm and short on just about everything else. The Komets lack team speed and are extremely young, returning just one starter. On the bright side, Dirksen is a good defensive catcher who hits for both average and power. Gunther makes it clear he will be building for next year. “I really like the kids,” he says, “but they’re very young and inexperienced. So we’re going to take our lumps.”
Last season: 7-17, 4-11 league (fifth).
Coach: Dave Buttles.
Top returners: Jesus Jauregui (junior, IF), Julio Rodriguez (junior, shortstop), Oscar Sanchez (junior, C/P), Brandon Garland (senior, P/IF).
Top newcomers: Antoine Henry (sophomore, CF), Rafael Miramontes (senior, P).
Outlook: Buttles likes to tell his team: “We can’t hit or pitch but we’re slow.” That’s a joke. But Clairemont is more scrappy than anything else. The Chieftains won’t likely dazzle teams with power or baffle them with pitching. In the first 10 games, they had just five extra-base hits. Clairemont’s strength, said Buttles, is the ability to score runs from a few hits.