Down-Home Feeling for Visiting Team

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For Roland De La Maza, there was congris con ropa vieja.

For Chris Portugal, there was Christina Hurtado.

For Cal State Sacramento baseball coaches, there was a one-time opportunity for their players to do recruiting.

"This has gotta be a great tool for the coaching staff," said Craig Sturges, whose son, Brian, a former Thousand Oaks High player, is a Sacramento freshman. "All these kids visiting their high schools, talking to their friends."

The Hornets' current three-game series at Cal State Northridge is homecoming weekend for 10 Sacramento players from Southern California. Seven are from the Valley area, and Coach John Smith allowed them to stay with their families.

This was one visiting team that felt right at home.

Portugal, a freshman from Montclair Prep, hung out at his alma mater Friday and had a date that evening with Hurtado, his girlfriend and a Montclair Prep senior. His parents and several friends attended Saturday's game, a 7-4 Sacramento victory.

"It's good to be home, it's great," Portugal said, grinning widely.

Jeff Shapiro, Montclair Prep's senior shortstop, stood alongside Portugal. "I'm impressed with Sacramento," Shapiro said. "The coaches are talking to me. It feels good."

Something downright delicious was on the mind of De La Maza, the Hornets' ace pitcher who attended College of the Canyons and St. Genevieve High. A home plate never looked so good.

"My mom's cooking, that's what I saw in my mind all week," he said.

Including Cuban specialties such as congris con ropa vieja , a dish of shredded beef, rice and beans. "He gets to eat everything he likes," said Rolando De La Maza, Roland's father. "For him, it's the big thing."

Sacramento is the third college attended by Mike Eby, the Hornets' winning pitcher Saturday. Coming home is especially appealing because he can visit his fiancee, LeeAnne March, as well as stay with his parents in Westlake.

"Eating at home, sleeping in my own bed, then getting up and going to the ballpark, it's just like it was in high school and at Pierce, very comfortable," Eby said.

Carolyn and Richard Eby felt the same way about sitting in the Northridge stands, cheering as their son shut down the home team.

"We really looked forward to this series," said Carolyn, sitting among a large contingent of Sacramento fans. "There is a great rivalry between these teams."

Responsible for a portion of the turnout were Lois and Jack Knighton, parents of freshman Shad Knighton, a Montclair Prep graduate. "Sure enough, we brought all our friends out," Jack Knighton said.

Moments before Shad had left for Sacramento in the fall, his mother asked him half-jokingly, "So, when are you going to be home?"

This weekend, the answer was clear.

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