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American Legion Baseball / Steve Elling : Lieberthal Rocks Home Run as Scouting Bureau Camera Rolls

Fast forward a few years to where Mike Lieberthal is squatting behind the plate and adjusting his face mask. . . . Turn up the audio, Vinny’s doing the play by play. . . . Adjust the contrast so that the uniform colors become clear and vibrant. . . . Hey, Lieberthal is wearing the jersey of a major league team.

After his performance Sunday afternoon, Lieberthal certainly didn’t hurt his chances of realizing his career objective. In fact, the goal could be more in focus than ever.

A Major League Scouting Bureau film crew attended Westlake-Agoura’s game against Royal specifically to videotape Lieberthal, who is having the best offensive season of any player in the Valley area. Lieberthal responded by hitting his area-best 12th home run of the year, throwing out both would-be thieves at second base and stealing a base of his own.

“That stuff doesn’t affect him,” Westlake-Agoura Coach Chuck Thompson said of the film crew. “Sure, he’s got some awareness that it’s going on, but he handles it really well.”

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Lieberthal, a three-year starter at Westlake High who will be a senior in the fall, attended a scouting combine camp at Loyola Marymount on Saturday along with about 200 other players. He caught the eye of several scouts, and a video crew was dispatched to film Lieberthal during a live game, Thompson said.

What they captured was hardly unusual. Entering play this week, Lieberthal (6 feet, 165 pounds), who had played shortstop and second base at Westlake before moving to catcher this summer, is batting .434 (40 for 92) with 40 runs scored and 41 runs batted in.

“He wants to make baseball his future,” Thompson said, “whether it’s right out of high school into the pros or through college. He’s worked very hard for it.”

Ultimate good news, bad news: Exactly one pitch into his start against Burbank last Saturday night, the worst was over for Valley Encino-Tarzana right-hander David Grisar. Or at least he hoped so.

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The Burbank leadoff batter sent Grisar’s first offering into the hole toward right field. Second baseman Justin Bass fielded the ball, turned, and heaved it over the head of Grisar, who was covering first.

“The first pitch was definitely the worst part of it,” said Grisar. “I figured it would be scored a hit.”

He found out two hours later, after the game was over, that it had been scored an error, giving Grisar the first no-hitter in District 20 play this season.

But by that time, Grisar was also acutely aware that he had lost, 3-2, after allowing three unearned runs.

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Nonetheless, the performance continued a strange turnaround for Grisar, who was 4-4 with a 4.35 earned-run average as a senior at Birmingham High last season. In 45 innings for the Braves--who finished 8-12 overall and third in the four-team Mid-Valley League--Grisar struck out 48 batters. In his last 28 innings of Legion play, Grisar has struck out 38.

“He’s thrown real well in Legion,” Bass said. “If he’d done this well at Birmingham, we’d definitely have done better as a team. But we started off real badly and he got down on himself. With Legion, he got a fresh start.”

But Legion has been as fresh as three-day-old socks for almost everyone else.

Bass also said that playing for Valley ET has “been pretty much a carry-over,” from the high school season: Valley ET is an anything-but-extraterrestrial 2-16, worst among District 20 teams. Grisar is 1-4.

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Grisar is hoping things get better next year at Nevada Las Vegas, where he will attempt to make the team as a walk-on and join his brother Mike, a left-handed pitcher and 1985 Birmingham graduate.

“The coach there said that when I get there, all I have to do is throw strikes and the infielders will handle everything else,” Grisar said. “Here, sometimes, I just throw the ball and pray.”

Dirty tricks dept: To heck with a glove. When Woodland Hills West catcher Bobby Kim ripped a line drive into right field Saturday, Reseda’s Tom Gibson would have been better off with a shovel.

In medium-deep right at Reseda High was a mound of dirt. A big mound. Larger than a pitcher’s mound. Larger than what it would take to fill a pickup truck. And making the pick-up was the whole problem.

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It was enough dirt, in fact, to resurface an entire infield.

“As soon as we’re through playing they’re supposed to rip up the old infield and replant a new one,” Reseda Coach Frank DesEnfants said. “But I have no idea why they put it there, especially now.”

Said Gibson: “I think I could have caught (Kim’s ball) if that hadn’t been there. I ended up kind of running into it when I went after the ball.”

Alas, while Gibson was four-wheeling around in the dirt, Kim’s ball rolled to the fence for a double. But at least Gibson wasn’t trapped out there all game. In the middle innings, he was moved to center field, where 12 months ago. . . .

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“They did the same thing to us last year,” DesEnfants said. “Except that time, they put it in center.”

Comeback of the year: Two summers ago, Tony Ljubetic’s Legion season ended in with him sprawled out in a cloud of dust, an umpire looming over him at home plate, thumb pointing in the air.

After Van Nuys-Notre Dame had won the District 20 title in 1987 and advanced to the 6th Area playoffs, Coach Jody Breeden inserted Ljubetic as a pinch-runner at second with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. With his team trailing Camarillo, 3-1, Ljubetic sped for home as the tying run on a single to center but was thrown out to end the game and season.

Last summer, Ljubetic, a 1988 Notre Dame High graduate, did not play Legion ball, instead concentrating on making the soccer team at Cal State Northridge, where he was a redshirt. This summer, however, Ljubetic approached Breeden and practically begged to again play Legion ball.

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“We had the roster pretty much filled out,” Breeden said. “I told him it was kind of iffy.”

Said Ljubetic: “I kept calling, kept calling, really kept after him. Finally, a space opened up.”

A roster position became available when All-Southern Section catcher Bobby Hughes left to play in the Alaska Summer League. Ljubetic--who has played in the infield and outfield--took Hughes’ place on the roster and his jersey number and has posted the same kind of statistics with which Hughes would have been pleased.

After opening the season alternating as the No. 8 and 9 hitter, Ljubetic has been elevated to leadoff, scored 17 runs and is batting a team-high .440. He attributes at least part of his success to gaining 25 pounds from his graduation weight of 145 pounds and growing another inch to 5-foot-10.

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On Monday, Ljubetic was one of two Van Nuys-Notre Dame players selected to play in the District 20 All-Star Game at 1 p.m. Sunday at Birmingham High.


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