On or Off Field, Cypress Freshman Is All Business

Bobby Brito has no intention of changing his first name to Robert. He keeps a toy cartoon figure tied to his shoe. He is rumored to have once stuffed 20 French fries in his mouth simultaneously.

We mention this only to prove that Brito, The Most Serious Boy In The World, does, in fact, have the capacity to be a kid. Not that you would know it by talking to him.

The Cypress High freshman is as serious as a three-piece suit. On the baseball field--where he's batting .548, tops in Orange County--Brito is focused and unflappable. When he buys a car, his bumper sticker no doubt will read: "He who dies with the most poise wins."

To a 30ish reporter, this is somewhat unsettling. How is it that a 15-year-old boy acts twice as mature as someone twice his age? Doesn't this kid ever give in to goofiness? Doesn't he know, being a freshman, he's required to do dopey things each and every day?

Of course, the way Brito is playing, folks around Cypress probably wouldn't care if he forgot his uniform or missed the bus or got lost on the way to the bathroom. His freshman-ness would be forgiven. He could laugh at his own jokes, start food fights, bring fake barf to practice, whatever. He's that valuable to his team.

Cypress Coach Don Rayl says Brito has a great arm. And great speed. And quick hands and quick wrists and a sharp eye. But none of that compares to his competitiveness. As for his maturity? Well, Rayl says, that's Brito's best trait. It shows when Brito supports his older brother, Mike, a senior and reserve player on the team. It shows when Brito is reminded, almost daily now, of the tremendous expectations people are placing on him.

Brito says it doesn't bother him. "I just keep calm about it," he says.

Three years ago, Brito was a member of the Cypress youth team that made it to the Little League World Series. Brito pitched a complete game on national TV, losing to Shippensburg, Pa., in the semifinal.

He was then as he is now--intense, serious and focused. The teeny-bopper groupie girls didn't interest him. The huge crowds and TV cameras left him unfazed.

"I remember asking him, 'Bobby, when you were on the mound out there in front of 30,000 people, didn't you have butterflies? Weren't you nervous?' " his father, Gilbert, says. "He just said, 'Nah.'

"That's Bobby. Real low-key."

No joke. During the course of a 20-minute interview, Brito squirmed so much you'd think he was in the hot seat in the principal's office. Attention, it seems, isn't what he's after.

His No. 1 goal--aside from helping Cypress win games--is to play pro ball straight out of high school. He says he understands the chances are slim; he's prepared to do what he must.

"It's just my dream when it comes down to it," he says.

That is why he won't try bodyboarding ("Never, no way. Why risk yourself?") or snowboarding ("Are you kidding? You have two legs stuck on one board. There's no way to get out.") That is, in part, why he tends to stay in on weekends.

His girlfriend, Veronica Gomez, says she reminds him that baseball is only a game. He protests, saying, "It could be my life!" He is as methodical about baseball as he is about cleaning his room and ironing his T-shirts and jeans before school. He does it not because he has to, but because he feels he should.

His parents, Gilbert and Kathy, say they haven't a clue how their youngest son got this way. Bobby was always very serious, they say, the quietest kid in the family. They can't remember the last time they saw their son cry. Sure, he got a little teary-eyed when his pet, Touche the turtle, died. But that was so long ago.

Bobby says he doesn't worry about the future; doesn't think about what some might expect from him in years to come.

"I won't be worrying about that," he says matter-of-factly. "I'll just do my best and try to keep my grades up . . . I don't feel that much pressure."

Just as he doesn't feel much of a need to let loose or goof around. That's just not him, never has been. Leave the joker role for someone else. Brito's got a job to do.

If he gets the last laugh, that will be just fine.

Barbie Ludovise's column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Ludovise either by writing her at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, 92626, by calling (714) 966-5847 or by fax at 966-5663.

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