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Arcadia Slugger Smaldino Was a Hit Right Off the Bat : Baseball: Senior third baseman started season with homer. After 16 games, he is batting .550.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Arcadia High third baseman Doug Smaldino had a feeling this was going to be a good year after he hit the first pitch of the season for a home run.

It was an auspicious way to start, but Smaldino was apparently just warming up.

After 16 games, the 17-year-old senior has been producing offensive figures that are difficult to duplicate.

Smaldino is batting .550, with 33 hits in 60 at-bats, five doubles, three triples, four home runs, 20 runs batted in and a perfect 18 for 18 in stolen bases.

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“I have had very few players as complete as he is across the board and he’s only struck out four times this season,” Arcadia Coach John Meiers said.

The coach said Smaldino, 6-foot and 170 pounds, ranks with the best players he has coached at Arcadia, which has been a perennial Southern Section power.

“This is my 16th year as head coach and he is probably in the top 10 of all the kids that I’ve had here,” he said.

Not to mention where he stands among San Gabriel Valley players this season.

“People that know about baseball in the valley say that he has as much talent as anyone out here,” Meiers said.

As all-around players go, Smaldino doesn’t have many noticeable weaknesses.

“He is an impact player in the sense that he has speed and power,” Meiers said. “He just does everything. He can hit, he plays defense as well as anyone and he can be a vocal leader when he needs to be.”

With Smaldino leading the way, the Apaches are ranked No. 7 in the Southern Section 5-A Division with a 12-3-1 record, although Meiers said he was concerned at the start of the season because it is one of his youngest teams ever.

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“I knew we had a talented group of kids but we started three sophomores,” Meiers said. “I was real worried about the pressure because no matter how you cut it, there’s a lot of pressure for Arcadia baseball. But getting back to Doug, he’s worked with our youngsters and shown them a very strong work ethic and I think that’s helped keep us together.”

Smaldino says his work ethic comes partly from having played the game for a long time. In fact, he has been playing for nearly as long as he has known how to walk.

“My dad tells me he used to throw Wiffle balls to me when I was two,” he said. “He still reminds me of that all the time.”

After starring in youth leagues, it did not take Smaldino long to make an impact at the high school level. He started as a sophomore and earned honorable mention on the All-Pacific League team before batting .412 and receiving all-league first-team honors last season.

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That made Smaldino work even more intensely prior to this season.

“I just wanted to come back strong and see how well I could do,” he said. “I didn’t really expect to come out with what I’ve done. But I worked hard in the off-season, so it hasn’t been just luck. I’ve taken a lot of extra swings and things like that and that’s helped.”

He also played an extensive amount of summer and winter league games to help prepare for the season.

Last summer he played for the San Marino-Arcadia Cardinals of the Senior Babe Ruth League and also on the 818 area code all-star team that played in a tournament in Lodi in August. In addition, he played with many of the top prep players in Southern California on the Dodger scout team that competed from early September to mid-December.

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“I played baseball year-round last year,” Smaldino said. “That was the first time I’ve played all year-round in my career and maybe that made a difference. I just came in with a lot of confidence because I knew I put in so much hard work and effort and that good things were going to come out of it.”

Smaldino’s hard work has not gone without notice from NCAA Division I colleges. He has been recruited by top programs including USC, Loyola Marymount, UC Santa Barbara and San Jose State.

“I’d love to get a shot to play pro ball but I’d also like to complete my education,” said Smaldino, who is a good student with a 3.34 grade-point average. “That’s my first and foremost priority. I want to get my degree in college first and then I will give a shot to making it in pro ball.”

Although he has demonstrated the ability, Smaldino realizes he will have to improve before he enters college.

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“I think I have to work on all parts of my game,” he said. “I think I have a long way to go before I can play college ball. But I’m very pleased with the way I’ve been playing so far.”

Meiers, for one, thinks Smaldino has the tools for a successful future in baseball.

“He’s got the good strong arm and he’s got the quickness and he’s still young enough that he’s going to mature even more in the future,” he said.

Smaldino’s concern at the moment is a successful conclusion to his prep career. The Apaches are well on their way to their fifth Pacific League title in six years and Smaldino is excited about the team’s chances in the 5-A playoffs.

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“We are solid from one to nine in our lineup,” he said. “It’s not just me. Every time I come up it seems like there’s someone on base. The top of the lineup has been pretty good and I think we’re pretty confident that we can play with any team.”

That may be true, but Meiers said he hates to think about the prospect of not having Smaldino on the team.

“I’m already having nightmares about what we’re going to do without him next year,” he said.

Fortunately for Meiers, he still has Smaldino on his roster this season and that has proven to be a nightmare for Arcadia’s opposition.

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