Baseball Dream Lost in Violence : Aftermath: No witnesses have come forward since Harbor College pitcher was shot.
Derrick Flax dreamed of making it to the major leagues, having his best friend become his agent and buying his mother a mansion. He told friends he wanted a life away from South-Central Los Angeles.
Flax, a promising pitcher at Harbor College in Wilmington, will realize none of those dreams.
On Aug. 1, police found him dead in the doorway of a South-Central L.A. apartment they said apparently was used only for drug deals.
Flax, 18, died of a bullet wound to the head, police said. No arrests had been made as of Friday.
Detective Brent Josephson said that the apartment was set up several weeks ago to deal crack cocaine. Small amounts of cocaine were found in the apartment’s living room the night of Flax’s death.
Josephson said he does not know why Flax was at the apartment because no witnesses to the killing have come forward.
“This is a hard case to understand,” Josephson said. “I’m really hoping some people come through with the rest of the pieces to the puzzle. Right now, we don’t have a lot of leads. Every death is a tragedy, but this is especially tragic since Derrick had so much to live for.”
Family and friends also say they are confused.
“I don’t know anything about how or why Derrick died,” said his mother, Betty Flax. “I’m still waiting to hear exactly what happened. I have no knowledge of him ever being involved with drugs, so this is really a shock to me. He said goodby to me that morning, and I never heard from him again.
“All I know is I keep yelling out for Derrick at home, and he isn’t there. He was my only son and I loved him dearly. I miss him a lot.”
Although Flax occasionally played a game of pickup basketball and tossed the football around at school, baseball was his true love. He started with T-ball at a neighborhood park when he was 7 and joined a Little League team the next year.
His interest in the sport escalated during his sophomore year at Washington High. Coach Kermit Taylor made him the varsity starter in right field.
“Derrick wasn’t just satisfied with playing in the outfield,” Taylor said. “He kept telling me he could pitch. I finally took a look at him and liked what I saw. He had a wicked curveball.”
A left-hander, Flax was the team’s top pitcher his junior year. He went 8-4 and led the Generals to the City Section 3-A Division semifinals. He was voted to the All-City team.
His senior season was even better. He had a 12-2 record and Washington advanced to the 3-A final at Dodger Stadium, where it lost to Fairfax. Flax pitched in every playoff game and again was voted to the All-City team.
In 18 years of coaching at Washington, Taylor said, Flax was one of his best players. He rallied the team in trying times and did not miss a practice in three years.
He also was a popular student and was voted homecoming king his senior year.
“If I had to make a mold of the model high school player, I would want it to be in the shape of Derrick,” Taylor said. “The relationship we had was as positive as you can get between a player and coach. He definitely had a future in the game.”
Friends, though, said that Flax went through a difficult period after high school because he had not been selected in the amateur baseball draft. At 5 feet 11 and 155 pounds, he was too small, scouts said.
“All Derrick could ever talk about was baseball,” said Lana Brown, a friend of Flax’s.
“Baseball came up in every situation. But when he was passed over in the draft, he took it very hard. He would call me in the middle of the night and ask me what he should do with his life. I told him to stick with it and good things would happen.”
Flax briefly attended Santa Monica College last fall, then transferred to Harbor College for the spring semester. Since he had missed Harbor’s fall and winter league games, coaches worked him into the lineup slowly. He pitched in only seven games but was effective, ending up with a 1.59 earned-run average and six strikeouts.
“Derrick would have seen considerably more playing time next year,” Bob Anderson, Harbor assistant coach, said. “He was our second-best left-handed pitcher, so we were looking forward to his services. There was definitely a place for him on our team.”
Flax had a tryout with the Seattle Mariners earlier this summer and had been playing Connie Mack baseball. Scouts had been watching Flax, Anderson said, and he expected the pitcher to be drafted after next season.
Somewhere, though, Flax jumped the track to baseball fame.
“After this past season ended, Derrick had some time on his hands,” said Anthony Griffin, a former teammate both at Washington and Harbor College. “I think that is when he started hanging around with the wrong crowd. He was trapped with nowhere to go.”
Brown said she had seen him in recent weeks wearing fancier clothes than normal and suspected something.
“Derrick and I had talked about death before and he always told me that if he died first, that he didn’t want me to cry at his funeral,” Brown said. “Derrick was never involved in a gang and he knew right from wrong. I just wish I could have talked to him one last time so he wouldn’t have made this mistake.”
Antonio Moten, Flax’s best friend, was the one who got him interested in baseball. The two would get neighborhood kids to play ball in the streets.
“Derrick wanted me to be his agent when he made it big,” Moten said. “All of our families were going to live together when he made a lot of money. Recently, I guess Derrick was doing what he thought would make him happy.
“I knew something was going on that Derrick shouldn’t have been involved with,” he said. “He was on the run a lot. All boys must separate and find their manhood. I guess Derrick was still in that process.”