In the bottom of the first inning at Simi Valley on Wednesday, Westlake catcher Derek Tamburro arched a soft toss back to the mound--and missed pitcher Mike Eby by at least 15 feet.
As the ball rolled out toward second base, there was a stirring in the Simi Valley dugout. The Pioneers seemed primed for one of their infamous verbal barrages. It was time for a few bars of the Simi Valley rag.
But not a peep came from the Pioneer dugout, except from Chadd Johnson. “God, I know what that guy is going through,” he lamented.
Perhaps out of deference to their teammate, the Pioneers bit their tongues, even though Tamburro’s throws to Eby remained an adventure--a couple at his feet and a few more over his head.
Tamburro is one of the Valley area’s better catchers, but occasionally he has suffered from the Steve Sax syndrome in which the simplest of throws becomes a hardship. Johnson also exhibited the symptoms this season, and that is one of the reasons he is playing right field instead of catching.
“Chadd threw out four of five runners at second base in our first few games and has a great arm,” Simi Valley Coach Mike Scyphers said. “But out of the blue he had trouble throwing the ball back to the pitcher. He’d lob it and it would go long. Then he’d throw it harder and it would go into the ground.
“Our guys laughed with him about it and gave him sympathy. There was a little bit of everything.”
But the problem persisted, so Scyphers put Brandon Banaga behind the plate.
These little town blues: Monsignor McClancy High, a Queens, N. Y., school with an enrollment of 900, sent its baseball team to last week’s Thousand Oaks tournament with hopes of playing a few games, seeing some sights and generally enjoying the Southern California scene.
The team got that--and a little more.
It seems that the boys from McClancy were wandering the mean streets of Carpinteria when an altercation developed between them and several locals. Apparently, the locals pulled out knives before the situation calmed. No one was hurt, but McClancy Coach Bob Lowenberg moved the team from Carpinteria into a Thousand Oaks hotel.
“We didn’t have to leave New York for that,” Lowenberg said with a laugh. “I guess it could happen anywhere. You have bad elements in every town.”
Add McClancy: After traveling 3,000 miles, McClancy lost two games on the tournament’s first day. The team, however, did not start practice until March 4 and, because of inclement weather, had its first outdoor practice three days before boarding the plane.
Lowenberg was impressed with the caliber of baseball at the tournament.
“The level of play was consistently better than it is here (in New York),” he said. “They are deeper and much more fundamentally sound than a lot of the teams here.”
McClancy has made the playoffs eight consecutive years and advanced to the semifinals of the New York City playoffs twice.
Valiant plan: St. Genevieve possessed one of the best pitching staffs in the Valley last season, but when Mike Rohrbough (9-2, 2.23 earned-run average) graduated in June, half of the Valiants’ one-two punch was gone.
And thus far, no one has stepped forward to take Rohrbough’s place, leaving the Valiants in such a predicament that Coach Kevin Kane plans to use ace Roland De La Maza (8-1, 0.80 ERA, 126 strikeouts in 1988), twice a week when San Fernando Valley League play begins April 12.
Kane’s plan calls for De La Maza (4-2, 0.88 ERA, 49 strikeouts in 32 innings this season) to start on Wednesdays and make relief appearances on Fridays if the Valiants are tied or leading entering the late innings.
“The way the league schedule is set up, most of our tough games will be on Wednesday,” Kane said. “That’s when we play Notre Dame, Chaminade and La Salle. If Roland can shut those guys down when he starts, we may have a chance in the league race.”
But what about De La Maza’s arm? Won’t the extra innings subject the senior right-hander to burnout?
Not according to Kane.
“Roland is not a power pitcher,” Kane said. “He’s a breaking-ball pitcher and he usually throws 20 to 30 hard pitches two days after he starts. So there won’t be that much difference. Instead of throwing them on the sideline, he’ll be doing it in the game.”
Add St. Genevieve: Because of the lack of a first-rate second starter, St. Genevieve (5-5) plays two different ways depending on who is on the mound, Kane said.
“When Roland is starting, we don’t have to score a lot of runs,” Kane said. “But when he’s not pitching, we’ve got to outscore the other team.
“I’ve told the guys that when Roland’s not on the mound we’re really just a glorified junior varsity team because of our youth and inexperience.”
Brighton Bench Memoirs: Grant senior outfielder Neil Simon has done about all anyone could expect of him as a reserve this season. In four games--he has started only once--Simon is five for seven with six runs batted in.
But Coach Tom Lucero cannot find a place to put him. Grant has three returning lettermen playing in the outfield: Jeff Boado (four for eight), Stan Spancer (seven for 12) and Sean Goldman (four RBIs) are carrying their weight.
Speaking of wait . . .
“He understands what the deal is,” Lucero said. “He knows I’m going with experience, but still, I bet he’s wondering what he has to do.”
First to third: John Johnson has been moved from leadoff to third in the Channel Islands batting order as Coach Don Cardinal tries to find a more explosive lineup. Johnson, a senior shortstop, is hitting .440 (11 for 25) with three home runs.
“We had to figure out if we should bat him first and let him score runs or bat him third and have him drive some in,” he said.
Channel Islands, usually one of the best hitting teams in the area, was batting .256 going into the Thousand Oaks tournament, where it was shut out twice.
Staff writers Tim Brown, Steve Elling, John Lynch and John Ortega contributed to this notebook.