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Leading a Charmed Life : CSUN’s Sharts Blends Skill With Superstition

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Scott Hayward happened to be playing left field for UC Riverside last Sunday when Scott Sharts connected with a slider that was last seen rapidly heading east at about a 30-degree angle.

Hayward turned to give chase, but his retreat lasted only a step before reality set in.

As the ball cleared the wall, Hayward’s shoulders sagged and his head drooped. For several seconds he stared at the ground.

Ditto for Bill Jordan, the Riverside pitcher whose two-ball, no-strike pitch had just been sent whistling (“Dixie” no doubt) into the afternoon breeze.

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There have been 26 such Sharts Shots and each has had a similar effect on the posture of Cal State Northridge opponents.

Sharts Shots are high, deep and they hurt.

Sunday’s fourth-inning homer was the only run Northridge would need to qualify for the NCAA Division II World Series that starts today in Montgomery, Ala.

Sharts made sure it would stand up. The 6-foot-6, 221-pound sophomore right-hander earned the 2-0, complete-game victory by allowing only eight hits to a Riverside lineup that came into the game batting .332.

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“What can I say? He just dominated us,” Riverside Coach Jack Smitheran said.

Anyone who witnessed Sharts prepare for the game might have expected as much. After all:

He was wearing his home-game undershirt.

His socks and stirrups had been donned in the correct order.

His belt buckle was on the right notch.

His uniform had been buttoned juuust right.

“When it comes to superstition, I’m probably the worst,” Sharts said sheepishly while relaxing before practice this week.

Sharts always puts his right sock--he says the right are clearly distinguishable from the left--on before the left. Same with his sanitary stockings and stirrups.

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When he doesn’t pitch, Sharts wears a brace on his right elbow. It is a remnant from a time earlier this season when he was bothered by tendinitis.

The brace was given to Sharts by Phil Lombardi, a one-time major league catcher. The first game he wore it, Sharts blasted two home runs.

The arm ailment is long gone, but the brace might be around for a while.

“Some people think it’s stupid and it doesn’t work, but I’m staying with it,” Sharts said. “It works for me.”

Apparently, so do carne asada burritos.

Sharts reports that he and Dave Weatherman, CSUN’s pitching coach, dine regularly at a particular Mexican restaurant in Simi Valley on the night before games.

Wade Boggs eats chicken. Sharts eats burritos.

Somebody should patent the recipe.

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In his first full season of college baseball, Sharts has broken Northridge’s 10-year-old single-season home run record, is batting .299 with a team-high 66 runs batted in, and has a 5-2 pitching record with a strikeout for each of his 55 innings pitched.

All things considered, the West regional title game against Riverside was just another day at the office.

Sharts expected there would be plenty of those days when he left Simi Valley High in 1988, bound for the University of Miami. He and the Hurricanes were supposed to take Division I baseball by storm.

He signed with Miami in hopes of playing for a champion but rarely played, and the Hurricanes were knocked off in the Division I World Series by Louisiana State.

Sharts, who blasted a Southern Section-record 32 home runs in his high school career, hit .222 in only 36 at-bats as a reserve first baseman for Miami last season. As a pitcher, he logged 18 1/3 innings, allowing eight runs and compiling a 1-0 record.

Yearning to be a regular--preferably at both positions--Sharts asked to be released from his scholarship at the conclusion of last season. Miami obliged.

Sharts was the college equivalent of a free agent. And there were plenty of takers.

Northridge had a vacancy at first base and the Matadors were in need of both a power hitter and pitching.

Sharts certainly fit the bill. But would he befit the program?

That question was answered the first time Sharts’ new teammates saw him on the field.

With a hose and a rake.

“We had two weeks of working on the field before we started practice and he was one of the first ones out there every day,” Northridge Coach Bill Kernen said. “I think he showed the other guys right there that he wasn’t going to be a prima donna.”

Miami had its own grounds crew, but the Hurricanes also had a crew of players trying out at every position.

When Sharts jogged toward first base to take infield on the first day of practice at Northridge, no one else came with him.

So what would a little landscaping hurt?

“As it turned out, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Sharts said. (Kernen) has given me a shot. When I was slumping he’d tell me, ‘I don’t care if you go 0 for 40, you’re still going to be in the lineup.’ Here I can relax and do what I’m capable of doing.”

The bill of Sharts’ baseball hat is testimony to the damage he has inflicted on CSUN’s opponents this season. There are asterisks drawn in a line across the brim, one for each home run he has hit.

“At the start of the year I said I had the potential to go all the way around,” Sharts said. “Now that I’ve done it, I’m going to start across the middle.”

However, numbers alone aren’t a true indicator of Sharts’ value to Northridge. The West regional title game was merely the latest example.

“When push comes to shove and you’re locked in a great pitching duel like that, you look at a guy like him and say, ‘You know what? He’s gonna hit one out. He’s gonna throw a gem,’ ” Kernen said. “That’s why he’s here.

“He lives for that. Championship guys do.”

Sharts and the Matadors will be trying for their third championship of the season beginning Sunday at Paterson Field in Montgomery, when they make their debut in the eight-team, double-elimination national tournament against Lewis University of Romeoville, Ill.

In addition to winning the West regional title, the Matadors shared the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship with Riverside.

Northridge won the first of its two Division II championships in 1970. Its other national title came in 1984, when the Matadors featured another sophomore pitcher named Sharts: Steve Sharts, Scott’s older brother.

Steve Sharts is a left-handed relief pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies’ triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa., but his influence has been felt 3,000 miles away.

“My brother has been the inspirational person in my baseball career,” Scott said. “He’s the one who keeps me going.”

Steve is kept informed of his brother’s progress through a stream of telephone calls.

In a telephone interview this week, Steve recalled a time when the brothers used to face off in batting practice.

“He’d hit five or six rockets before I’d throw him a cut fastball or a changeup or something just to show him I could pitch a little,” Steve said. “He’d just laugh. I’d say, ‘You’re pretty good, but I’ve got some smarts.’ ”

The dream then was the same as it is now.

“The ultimate goal is for me to pitch against him in the big leagues some day,” Steve said.

In Steve’s absence, a trio of former teammates showed up at Northridge last Sunday to help Scott through the regional championship game.

Between innings, Sharts received words of encouragement from Dave Williams, Perry Husband and Todd Mustin, all members of Northridge’s 1984 team.

“When I saw guys that played with my brother coming back and showing some interest, it was a real exciting thing for me,” Scott said. “It pumped me up. I wanted them to see us do well and carry on the tradition.

“We’re all following in their footsteps, kind of like I’ve always wanted to follow what my brother was doing.”

He seems well on his way. The brothers even have similar superstitions.

Lately, Steve Sharts has been struggling with his consistency.

So, having studied videotape and checked his mechanics, Sharts says he now is checking his wardrobe.

“It’s funny. When I have a bad game I don’t really look at my performance. My first thought is always something like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I didn’t have on the right shirt. . . .’

“I think I need to go back to what I was wearing last year.”

Or try a burrito, perhaps?


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