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CHASING A DREAM : Cypress College Baseball Star Steve Gill Is Hoping to Make U.S. National Team

Times Staff Writer

A couple of weeks ago, Steve Gill suffered one of the major disappointments of his baseball career.

Gill, Cypress College’s center fielder, and his teammates failed to make the state finals and missed a chance at a state championship and the ring that goes with it.

Cypress, the top-seeded team in Southern California, lost to Los Angeles Harbor in the regional final.

But that’s pretty much old news for Gill. It’s time to move on and face other challenges. Or in this case, the biggest challenge of his young career.

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Starting Monday, Gill will be testing his skills against many of the nation’s best collegiate players at the United States Senior baseball team tryouts in Millington, Tenn. If this were an Olympic year, the team would represent the nation in the Games.

Gill was one of only six community college players selected for the 40-player tryout.

Also among the 40 players, who were picked by a committee of coaches from around the country, are 25 National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Division I players and three each from Division II, Division III, and the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics.

“When they first called me,” Gill said, “I really didn’t know what they were talking about. I was saying ‘Yeah, whatever.’ But then it sank in that it was a great chance. I don’t know how I’ll do, but it should be a great opportunity.”

After a week of tryouts, 10 players will be cut. The team will be cut to 25 players by June 20. Those players will represent the U.S. in games against Japan, Korea and Cuba.

“Just to have him selected is a great honor for him and the college,” Cypress Coach Scott Pickler said. “We nominated our better players just like everyone else, and he was picked. He does so many things well, you have to think he has a chance to make the team.”

Gill, who bats and throws left-handed, was an All-Orange Empire Conference player the past two seasons and an all-state player this season.

One of the main reasons Gill was picked for the tryout was his versatility, according to Pickler.

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Gill hits for average and power, and runs well.

He hit .384 overall, second best on the team to Jason Friedman (.391), who was the most valuable player in the conference.

Gill led Cypress in home runs with 12, was second with 50 RBIs, and led the team with 16 stolen bases.

Gill’s speed and strong arm also made him one of the better defensive players in the state.

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“He is one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached,” Pickler said. “He is right up there with John Fishel.”

Fishel, now playing for the Yankees’ triple-A team at Columbus, Ohio, played for Pickler when he coached at Loara High School.

Gill was drafted by the Atlanta Braves after his senior year at El Dorado High School, but decided to go to Cypress.

After hitting .321 with seven home runs as a freshman, he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins, but decided to return to Cypress.

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“Out of high school I never even thought of signing,” Gill said. “I didn’t expect to get drafted and didn’t really think of myself as a pro ball player.”

In April, Gill signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Arizona.

The Twins made a final offer to Gill last week before the draft but he said the offer was very disappointing and that he is leaning toward going to school. He has yet to find out if he was drafted again this year.

“The scouts always want you to sign right now,” Gill said. “But there are some things I want to take care of. I want to try out for this (U.S. Senior) team, and I really want another chance to get a ring.”

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U.S. Senior team notes

Bret Boone of USC and Kevin O’Connor of Illinois, both sophomore infielders, are the other Orange County players invited to try out. Boone and Steve Gill were teammates at El Dorado. Boone hit .273 this season with nine home runs and 57 RBIs. He scored 62 runs and had 20 doubles, as well as a team-high six game-winning RBIs. O’Connor, who played at Mater Dei High School in 1987, hit .323 with no home runs but did have 22 RBIs and 12 steals. O’Connor had signed with Cal State Fullerton out of high school in 1987, but when Coach Augie Garrido left Fullerton for Illinois, O’Connor followed. . . . Cypress pitcher Dennis Burbank (12-5) is trying to make the team as a walk-on in three-day tryout that starts today. Bob Hamelin, then of Rancho Santiago, and Brent Mayne and Mark Beck of Cal State Fullerton tried out for the team last summer, an Olympic year. Hamelin and Mayne were cut, and Beck dropped out with a sore shoulder. . . . Ferna Vina of Sacramento City and Bobby Magallanes of Cerritos are the other two community college players from California to be invited to the tryouts. . . . Charles Greene of Miami Dade Community College South will coach the team.


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