Brother's Shoes Fit Nicely

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jeff Tagliaferri, a first baseman at Kennedy High, reels off the coincidences like he wheels on a fastball. Ask him about his goals, and he laughs. Dodger Stadium, site of the City Section 4-A Division final, is the obvious answer.

"You gotta go to the Stadium," he said.

As Tug McGraw used to say, "You gotta believe." Though in this instance, the Kennedy coincidences border on the providential.

To wit:

* Quadrennial: Kennedy comes around as often as the Olympic Games and presidential elections. The Golden Cougars won 4-A titles in 1981, 1985 and 1989. Do the math and the point is clear--it's 1993 and the baseball bill is due.

* Name tag: When Kennedy last won the title, it was Tagliaferri's brother, Gino, who paved the way. Gino slammed a state-high 13 home runs, a City single-season record, and was named 4-A player of the year.

* Oh, brother: Also on the 1989 team were Travis Bourne, James Bernas and Mike Murray. All have siblings--David, Ken and Billy, respectively--on the current team.

* Strike two: Teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District went on strike in 1989--and came close again this spring.

* No pain, no gain: There were injuries to key players in 1989 and this season. Outfielder Shawn Madden, now playing at Stanford, missed most of 1989 because of a shoulder injury. Billy Murray, the designated hitter, suffered a dislocated left kneecap last weekend and could be sidelined indefinitely.

"The similarities between the ('89 and '93) teams are scary," Tagliaferri said.

This is a guy who understands comparisons. For three seasons, Jeff has been compared to Gino, a shortstop who was a third-round draft choice of the Detroit Tigers in 1989.

Though Jeff has come out of his shell over the past two seasons, he remains less demonstrative than his flamboyant brother, who was part bulldog.

In the batter's box, though, the pair have been purebred hell on opposing pitchers.

In the San Fernando tournament, Tagliaferri was the front man as Kennedy posted a 5-0 record to win the tournament's round-robin championship. In three tournament games last week, Tagliaferri was seven for 10, scored seven runs, had four extra-base hits and drove in five runs.

He was at his best Saturday, when Kennedy needed a victory over Birmingham to clinch the title. Tagliaferri hit two home runs--matching his output over each of the past two seasons--as Kennedy came from behind to win, 9-3.

Birmingham jumped to a 3-0 lead before Tagliaferri belted a three-run homer in the fifth to hand Kennedy a 5-3 lead.

"That clutch home run was a real shot in the arm," Kennedy Coach Manny Alvarado said.

The way Tagliaferri figures it, homers would be routine if Kennedy's field had anything close to regulation dimensions. The right-field fence is roughly 15 feet high and stands 430 feet from the plate. At least, that's what the sign says.

"No way," said Tagliaferri, who bats left-handed, unlike his brother. "It's over 500 feet--it's been measured. It's not reachable, even by a pro."

Tagliaferri (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) begged Alvarado to reinstall a portable fence in right, put in place three years ago to take advantage of left-hand-batting Garret Anderson, now in the California Angels' organization. Alvarado refused. Too much trouble to put up and take down.

As a result, Tagliaferri has become the team's gap guy. He hit 12 doubles and six triples in his first two seasons, and was a combined 55 for 164 (.335). He has raised productivity another notch in time for his senior season and is 10 for 15 with a team-high seven runs batted in.

Now that Little Tags has started to swing the bat with the power his brother showed, folks finally have stopped comparing the two.

"I lived with that for the first two years," said Jeff, who is being recruited by Cal State Long Beach. "Gino used to tease me. The papers would say, 'Jeff did this and Jeff did that,' then it would mention who my brother was."

If the subject rears its head again, Jeff will have had a hand in it. Before the season, Alvarado asked him how he liked hitting in the No. 2 slot, where he had spent his sophomore and junior seasons. Jeff asked to be moved to third in the order--where his brother batted.

"Yeah, I know my brother was there," Jeff said. "But I might as well fill his shoes. Everybody expects me to, so I might as well try."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
56°