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Stadium Site Adds Luster to Title Games : Baseball: With help from Padres, section baseball finalists will decide their fate at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

They could play these games on a sandlot, a grassy knoll, Charlie Smith Field or John Cunningham Stadium. They still would mean the same, right?

The winners take home a San Diego Section baseball banner. The play is the thing, right?

Not entirely. In this case, the setting is special, too.

It has been four years--an eternity for a high school student--since the county championships have been played in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

On Thursday, thanks to the Padres, they are back in east Mission Valley.

After the Padres-Houston Astros game at 1 p.m., unseeded Mission Bay will take on top-seeded Grossmont for the 2-A championship, followed by No. 2 Montgomery versus No. 1 Mira Mesa for the 3-A title.

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“No matter where it’s played, we wanted to be in the game,” Mira Mesa pitcher/first baseman Brendan Huase said. “But having it in the stadium will be icing on the cake.

“When we found out it was going to be in the stadium, we came up with a new slogan for our season--Quest for the Murph.”

Originally, the games were scheduled for USD’s Cunningham Stadium, where the 3-A and 2-A titles have been decided the past three years. But around the middle of the season, section Commissioner Kendall Webb got a call from Andy Strasberg, the Padres vice president of public relations.

Said Webb: “He called and said, ‘Would you like to have the use of the stadium after one of our games?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that would be great.’ ”

It wasn’t all that simple, but just about.

Webb said stadium rental normally is $10,000, and the cost of sound, lighting and staff can run an additional $5,000 to $10,000. The Padres are picking up the tab.

“It’s a perfect marriage,” said Strasberg, who added, “We’re hoping everyone has a wonderful, positive experience, and we hope to make it a tradition.”

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Said Webb: “We’re very appreciative of what the Padres are doing for us.”

So, too, are the high school coaches and players.

“I remember the day I told my team the game has been switched to the stadium,” Grossmont Coach Jeff Meredith said. “They were real excited. They all went out immediately and started checking to see who the Padres were playing.

“From now on, every time they go to a Padre game, they’ll be able to say, ‘I played there once.’ ”

Said Montgomery catcher Carlos Acuna: “It was definitely an incentive for us. It’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing. And now, it’s a dream come true.”

Defending champion Mira Mesa, playing its third 3-A final in seven years, is the only school among the four finalists ever to have played in the stadium.

On Thursday, it will have been six years and one day since Mira Mesa stunned highly favored Patrick Henry, 7-2, in the 3-A game at the stadium. Patrick Henry, with standouts Eric Karros, Scott Middaugh and Danny Martinez, entered the final with a 22-1 record and had beaten City Eastern League rival Mira Mesa twice during the regular season. Mira Mesa, 17-6 at the time and playing for its first banner, got a six-hitter from Willie Morris and a key three-run double from Todd Hentges.

This year, Mira Mesa (27-4-1) is a slight favorite, and Montgomery (23-5-1) is in for the first time.

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Grossmont (28-1) is the favorite in the 2-A. The Foothillers won the 2-A title last year after losing to Carlsbad in the final in 1989. Mission Bay (21-8) has been in four finals--winning in 1986 and ‘88--under Coach Dennis Pugh.

To get to its fifth championship, Mission Bay defeated USDHS in the 2-A semifinal. USDHS under Coach Dick Serrano has won four of its five title games.

“It’s funny,” Pugh said, “Dick and I were talking before the game, and with the all the championships we’ve been in, neither one of us has ever been to the stadium.

“I didn’t think we’d make it this year. I guess this is a payback for all the times I thought we were going to be there.”

While each coach is hoping his players won’t be overwhelmed by playing in a 56,000-seat stadium, each also realizes that could be a factor.

“There could be a tendency to say this will affect the outcomes of the games, but I don’t think it’s going to bother us all that much,” Pugh said. “It’s a nice field. So from that standpoint, it’s an honest field. The only problem I see might be the sun going down and then playing under the lights. We haven’t done too much of that.”

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Pugh also noted that it will be tougher for players to hit home runs, an advantage to Mission Bay since Grossmont has a number of sluggers, including Todd Cady, the section’s all-time home run leader.

“Cady will have to hit it a lot further to get it out of the stadium,” Pugh said.

Neither Mission Bay, Mira Mesa, nor Montgomery hit many homers this season.

Experience also could be a factor. Mission Bay and Montgomery are relatively young teams, and they will be playing against defending champions. Playing in the stadium might not affect Mira Mesa and Grossmont as much, but it will be equally thrilling for them as it is Montgomery and Mission Bay.

“It’ll be neat,” Mira Mesa Coach Mike Prosser said. “We’re going where everyone dreams of playing someday.”

Montgomery Coach Manny Hermosillo was less subtle after his team’s 1-0 victory over Castle Park in the 3-A semifinals. “This is such a great thrill,” he screamed. “We’re going to the stadium.”

Baseball Notes

Admission and parking for the high school games are free. The gates will be opened after the seventh inning of the Padres-Astros games, which starts at 1 p.m. . . . Announced starters are: Mike Bovee for Mira Mesa; David Silvas for Montgomery; and Manny Castillo for Mission Bay. Grossmont Coach Jeff Meredith, who used five pitchers in Saturday’s 18-17 victory over Madison, said he isn’t sure who will start for the Foothillers. “I have honestly, absolutely no idea who will start on the mound,” Meredith said. . . . Meredith’s wife, Li-An, used to work for Andy Strasberg and the Padres.

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