When John Stevenson watches Tate Seefried play baseball, he sees major league potential in the lanky El Segundo High senior.
It's close to the same potential the veteran coach saw in another El Segundo player 20 years ago.
"There are a lot of similarities between Tate and George Brett," Stevenson said. "It's the same feeling I had when George was here."
Physically, Seefried and Brett share two features: sweet, left-handed swings and powerful right arms. But it's what lies below the surface that convinces Stevenson that Seefried can make it in the majors. Seefried was drafted in the third round Monday by the New York Yankees and signed Tuesday for a six-figure bonus.
"If George had a bad day, there was always another game to be played," Stevenson said of the Kansas City Royals All-Star third baseman. "I think Tate is the same way."
The coach used El Segundo's 5-4 loss to San Marino in the Southern Section 2-A Division championship game Saturday as an example. Seefried, who gave up four runs in five-plus innings, was the losing pitcher.
"It bothered him a great deal that he lost," Stevenson said. "He was thinking all weekend what he could have done differently. But I guarantee the next time he goes out to play, he will be looking ahead, not behind. That's what you need to do in pro ball. You have to learn to shake those 0-for-5 nights."
Seefried didn't have many 0-for-5 games for El Segundo this season. The transfer from Spokane, Wash., by way of Rolling Hills High set school records for most home runs, runs batted in, hits and runs scored in a season, helping the Eagles (27-4) to their second consecutive appearance in the 2-A title game. He also was the team's No. 2 pitcher.
For his efforts, Seefried has been named The Times South Bay Player of the Year.
Garry Poe, who guided a young and inexperienced Rolling Hills team to the Bay League title, has been selected South Bay Coach of the Year.
Seefried, who played first base and pitched, called Monday "the best day of my life." Not only did the Yankees make Seefried the South Bay's highest draft choice since St. Bernard shortstop Royce Clayton was taken in the first round by the San Francisco Giants in 1988, but he received word that he had been selected to the U.S. Junior Olympic West team.
He forfeited his chance to play for the team when he signed Tuesday with the Yankees. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound player will report to the Yankees' rookie league club in Tampa, Fla., by June 20.
"He was torn between the two," said Gary Seefried, Tate's father. "He was extremely excited about playing for the Junior Olympic team. But his life-long goal was to be a professional baseball player."
Seefried realized that goal after a stellar prep career.
After playing his freshman and sophomore years at Rolling Hills, Seefried moved with his family to Spokane, where he established himself as one of the top juniors on the West Coast. Playing for Central Valley High last year, he drew accolades as the Spokane area's best major league prospect since Ryne Sandberg. He led Central Valley to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.
But despite hitting .415 and an 8-1 pitching record, Seefried said he wasn't entirely satisfied.
"Last year I had a good season in Spokane, but I don't think I had that good of a year," he said. "This year I thought I had a real good season. I think that's what helped me in the draft."
When the Seefrieds moved back to Southern California last summer, they had planned to return to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. But their plans changed after Gary Seefried saw an El Segundo American Legion game. Seefried went to watch Eagle shortstop Mark Lewis, a family friend and former teammate of Tate's at Rolling Hills. Lewis transferred to El Segundo after his sophomore year.
Impressed by El Segundo's strong tradition and fan support, Gary Seefried decided it was best for Tate's future to have him play his senior year in an Eagle uniform.
It proved a perfect marriage of school and athlete.
First, he helped the basketball team reach the 2-A semifinals as a starting forward. Then he earned a spot as the No. 3 hitter for a talent-laden baseball team that returned 10 of 16 players from its 1989 2-A championship squad.
Seefried responded by rewriting the school record book with 13 home runs, 50 RBIs, 55 hits and 44 runs scored. He batted .478 (55 for 115). In four CIF playoff games, he was 7 for 15 with six RBIs and six runs scored. Saturday, he doubled, tripled and scored two runs in the 2-A final at Anaheim Stadium.
Before the playoffs, Seefried helped the Eagles to their second consecutive Camino Real League title and was named the league's Most Valuable Player.
"He really packed a wallop, no question about that," Stevenson said. "He is just an outstanding all-around player. Offensively, he started strong and he finished strong. Not knowing anything about him going into the season, we figured to have a pretty strong team anyway. When he arrived, he added more offensive punch and also provided us with another pitcher."
On the mound, the right-hander was 7-2 with a 1.95 earned-run average. But his future is not as a pitcher, it's with a bat.
"The best hitter in the 2-A Division," a rival coach said.
After what Seefried accomplished in 1990, it's tough to argue with that.
Rolling Hills opened the season with three losses, and the situation hadn't improved much by the time Bay League play started. The Titans were hammered by Beverly Hills, 13-1, in their opener.
The lopsided loss left Poe searching for answers.
"I was thinking, 'Will we ever win?' " he said. "We knew Beverly Hills was good, but wow."
Before long, it was Rolling Hills' opponents who were saying, "Wow!"
The Titans, who were not expected to challenge for the league title, came back later in the week to beat Beverly Hills at home. From there, they staged one of the great surprises of the season by tying Torrance and Beverly Hills, teams considered more talented and experienced, for the Bay championship.
It made Poe's 20th season as coach perhaps his most satisfying.
"It was one of the most enjoyable seasons I've ever had because the kids came so far," he said. "They improved so much and learned so much. Very few times have I had a team play more together as a team."
Rolling Hills (13-12) needed to play together because it did not have any proven standouts to rely on. The Titans returned only three starters from the 1989 team, and 12 of the 17 varsity players were underclassmen.
But the players displayed a dedicated work ethic, a trait Poe credits for the team's rapid improvement.
"We just knew we were doing things right in practice," he said. "All we had to do was tell the kids that things were going to fall into place. By the end of April we won because we had good practices in February and March."
After bouncing back with the early victory over Beverly Hills, Poe said: "That had a lot to do with turning our season around. We started to believe in ourselves a little more."
The Titans seemed to play with more faith when Kirt Kishita was on the mound. The junior right-hander, who had never pitched before on the varsity level, emerged as the team's ace. He posted a 9-5 record and beat every Bay League team at least once. He also posted two saves, meaning he had a role in 11 of Rolling Hills' 13 victories.
Kishita pitched a 2-1 victory over St. Paul in the first round of the Southern Section 5-A playoffs. Then disaster struck in the second-round game. Leading Thousand Oaks, 10-1, going into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Titans gave up nine runs to the host school and lost in the eighth, 12-11.
Poe called it the toughest defeat of his career, but was proud to say his team didn't dwell on it.
"Winning is very important, but it's not everything," he said. "It can't be because you try to teach endurance. Kids are resilient, they're durable."
In the past two decades, Poe has demonstrated his durability as a coach and teacher. He is the chairman of the English department at Rolling Hills, and in 1985 was honored as the Palos Verdes district's Educator of the Year.
"It sends a message to the players that you can't put all your eggs in one basket," he said of his dual roles. "You have to approach the task, whether it's in the classroom or on the field. I enjoy both. I go to work with an enormous smile."
This baseball season, Poe's grin was little wider than usual.
1990 ALL-STARS Name: Mike Busby Position: Pitcher School: Banning Year: Junior W-L / Avg.: 9-4 Name: Rob Croxall Position: Pitcher School: El Segundo Year: Senior W-L / Avg.: 10-1 Name: Garret Quaintance Position: Catcher School: El Segundo Year: Senior W-L / Avg.: .442 Name: Tate Seefried Position: First Base School: El Segundo Year: Senior W-L / Avg.: .478 Name: Mark Lewis Position: Infield School: El Segundo Year: Senior W-L / Avg.: .425 Name: Jeff Richardson Position: Infield School: St. Bernard Year: Senior W-L / Avg.: .468 Name: Antone Williamson Position: Infield School: Torrance Year: Junior W-L / Avg.: .500 Name: John Coleman Position: Outfield School: St. Bernard Year: Senior W-L / Avg.: .370 Name: Armando Fernandez Position: Outfield School: Hawthorne Year: Junior W-L / Avg.: .382 Name: Eric Gonzalez Position: Outfield School: Torrance Year: Junior W-L / Avg.: .488 Name: Kirt Kishita Position: Utility School: Rolling Hills Year: Junior W-L / Avg.: 9-5 .388 Name: Pat O'Hara Position: Designated Hitter School: Palos Verdes Year: Junior W-L / Avg.: .364 SECOND TEAM
Name School Position Year W-L / Avg. Mike Kendall Torrance P Sr. 9-4 Jason Mavar Miraleste P Sr. 12-3 Todd Seneker Chadwick C Jr. .510 Grant Hohman St. Bernard INF Soph. .431 David Rosato So. Torrance INF Jr. .400 Alfredo Rodriguez Carson INF Sr. .467 Mike Ryan Miraleste INF Jr. .511 David Barajas Inglewood OF Sr. .556 Rex Olmeda San Pedro OF Soph. .368 Steve Papadakis Mary Star OF Sr. .486 Miguel Galaz Mary Star UTL Sr. 7-1 / .413 Julian Pardo Banning DH Sr. .466