Maybe Tony Zarrillo should be humming the strains of “Viva Las Vegas.”
Viva something, at least. Because until last week, the Crescenta Valley High baseball coach figured he had about as much chance of finding his offense as he did of finding Elvis Presley.
Part of the problem was Shane Cowsill. A junior who pitches and plays first base for the Falcons, Cowsill hit .390 last season and was named to The Times’ All-Glendale team. But he got off to a painfully slow start this season, and when Crescenta Valley left for last week’s Chaparral tournament in Las Vegas, Cowsill had just three hits in seven games.
But the hot desert air went a long way toward cracking Cowsill’s slump.
Granted, three hits in a tournament is not always cause for jubilation, but Zarrillo saw Cowsill making large strides in confidence.
“There was a noticeable change,” Zarrillo said. “He looked more comfortable at the plate.”
Shane isn’t the first Cowsill to find comfort in Las Vegas. His father, Paul, was a member of the “The Cowsills,” a popular bubble-gum rock band in the late 1960’s. The group, composed of eight members of the Cowsill family, was the true-life basis for “The Partridge Family” television show and had several hits including “Hair,” and “The Rain, The Park, and Other Things.”
The Cowsills, under contract with the Flamingo Hotel, would spend three months a year in Las Vegas during their heyday.
At one point during a tournament game, Cowsill noticed the first-base umpire gawking at the back of his jersey.
“In the middle of a pitch he goes, ‘Are you related to the singing Cowsills?’ ” Cowsill said. “I said, ‘Paul’s my dad.’ And he says, ‘Oh, wow! Which one is he?’ He’s looking up into the stands and I’m thinking, ‘Hey, get in the game, bud.’ ”
Paul Cowsill maintains fond memories of the city.
“We had a good time,” he said. “Everything was cool when we were playing Vegas.”
Everything was cold when Shane was playing L. A.
Cowsill reasons the slump was caused by self-imposed pressure for an encore season.
“I thought I had to do it all by myself,” he said. “And when I think I have to do everything by myself, I press and tense up.”
Zarrillo, who has talked with Cowsill at length in an attempt to relieve the tension, says he might have put too much emphasis on the junior’s role, which might be expected since Cowsill’s 39 runs batted in last season ranked third in the Southern Section 4-A division.
“Everyone associated with our program expects a great deal from him,” Zarrillo said. “I think he’s learning a lesson. As he gets older and the competition gets better, he realizes he has a role to play in the framework of the team.
“It’s important that he understand his role but not that the success or failure falls squarely upon his shoulders--it certainly does not.”
It seems as if anything short of a Volkswagen could rest comfortably on Cowsill’s shoulders, however. His 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame is less-than-svelte.
Zarrillo says Cowsill will have to redistribute his bulk with a steady weight program to be most effective. “He will make his mark as a good hitter and good defensive first baseman,” he said. “But he’s never going to lead your team in stolen bases.”
Cowsill’s size and soft hands made him a natural tight end on the football team. Though 1988 was his first year of organized football, and a broken hand abruptly ended his season, he was given serious All-Pacific League consideration by the league’s coaches.
“He can certainly play in college,” Crescenta Valley football Coach Jim Beckenhauer said. “His hands are as good as a wide receiver’s.”
Cowsill displayed those hands on an out pattern against South Pasadena. He leaped above a pack of defenders and snagged a pass, and when he landed he was popped soundly but held onto the ball. The play, Cowsill recollects, covered 25 yards.
“That’s where I think he came of age,” Beckenhauer said. “He took a tremendous hit and made it look easy.
“Once he learns, he’ll be a load because he’s got that frame that can really move some bodies.”
In addition to football, Cowsill had a stint with the basketball team, but decided not to play when the season began to impinge on baseball.
For Cowsill, all sports are second to baseball.
“Shane’s got a plan in his head and he hasn’t really veered from it yet,” said Paul, who now works as a free-lance contractor and coaches a Babe Ruth League baseball team. “He’s all baseball.”