Wolf Has No Grand Scheme : After Banner Junior Season, El Camino Real’s Ace Pitcher Hasn’t Changed His Priorities
It would have been the perfect way to end a high school career.
Standing on the mound in the stadium of your dreams. Crowd going wild. Tying run at third and winning run at second. Two out and a full count in the last inning of the biggest game of your life.
A curveball. A swing and a miss. Teammates mobbing you on the field.
It would have been the storybook finish to Randy Wolf’s days at El Camino Real High. Would have been, but he was only a junior.
What now, Randy?
He’s made a mess for himself. He did everything last year. Wolf pitched a no-hitter and a perfect game in consecutive starts. He earned a save in the City Section 4-A Division championship game at Dodger Stadium. He was named City 4-A player of the year and Times’ Valley pitcher of the year--all before his 17th birthday.
This season Wolf has to throw three consecutive no-hitters, win all of his starts and end world hunger or he is merely treading water.
Pressure? Not according to Wolf.
“I just have to do my best,” the senior left-hander said. “I can’t do anything other than that. I’m not going to think I have to throw four no-hitters or anything like that.”
Wolf shrugs his shoulders in response to questions about his success. This is the Wolf you expect. Laid-back. Blond hair and a big smile. No worries.
“He doesn’t have a big head,” teammate Clint Marcus said. “He doesn’t let all of his accomplishments affect the way he acts toward other people. That’s what makes him a really good leader on the field.”
Even in the middle of pitching a great game, Wolf will do anything to avoid the spotlight. No fist-pumping antics. Just a smirk.
“After he strikes out the side or something, he’ll come back to the bench and he’ll have this big ol’ smile on his face and he won’t say anything,” El Camino Real senior Justin Martin said. “That big ol’ smile. He won’t say anything, but you know what he’s thinking.”
The way to get to Wolf--and it sure isn’t by trying to hit against him--is by complimenting him. Want to see him off balance? Ask what it’s like to be named the 47th best high school prospect in the nation by Baseball America magazine. “It doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “Who comes up with that stuff anyway?”
A couple of weeks ago, Wolf and Marcus were in a fast-food restaurant when someone recognized Wolf and asked about the draft. What kind of money would it take to sign Wolf away from a scholarship at Pepperdine? Wolf stammered and spit out the first thing that came to mind: “Five cents.”
“He didn’t really want to say anything,” Marcus said. “He just did something to change the subject.”
Wolf doesn’t want to worry about the draft or Pepperdine or no-hitters or 3-and-2 curveballs or expectations. Not even Dodger Stadium.
“I used to think about (the championship game) a lot, almost every day,” Wolf said, “but now I try not to think about it because I want to get there again. But it’s a different team, so I try to forget about it and start over.”
Now that we’ve created the image of Randy Wolf, the nice, All-American boy with the golden arm, forget it for a moment.
He was not always that way.
“He had a temper that you wouldn’t believe,” his mother, Judy, said. “When he was 9 or 10, he didn’t like a call the umpire made, so he yelled to him that he (was terrible).”
Wolf’s father, Jim, says Randy used to be frustrated when his teammates didn’t perform to the level he expected of himself. Once, he was so upset he walked off the field in the middle of a game.
“He had an attitude and was always getting (ticked) off at everything,” Martin said.
In another game, Wolf was playing outfield when his coach motioned for him to move a few steps. Next thing Wolf knew, a ball dropped for a hit near the spot he had vacated. When Wolf got to the dugout at the end of the half-inning, he made sure to tell the coach he had blown it.
Not that Wolf was a troublemaker, but he did need a few stern conversations from his father about sportsmanship and learning to play with others. “You’d never suspect it today,” his father said.
Neither would you suspect that Wolf is a head-banger. A real heavy metal maniac. Metallica. Anthrax. Doesn’t matter. The harder the better.
“He listens to hard-core stuff,” said Kevin Szymanski, a teammate of Wolf’s last season at El Camino Real. “Really hard stuff that you’ve probably never even heard of.”
It seems out of character for Wolf. He looks as if he ought to be listening to Garth Brooks, swinging in a hammock and sipping lemonade.
But the Randy Wolf who listens to Metallica is the one who won all those games and pitched those no-hitters. He’s the one who prompted interest in the other Randy Wolf, the quiet one who doesn’t want to talk about all of those victories and no-hitters.
Wolf often psychs himself up for a game by listening to heavy metal.
“He brings that stuff on the field,” Marcus said. “When he gets out there, he’s really intense.”
Martin simplifies: “He doesn’t take any . . . from anyone.”
As a result, Wolf was spectacular in his first year of pitching for the varsity last season. He was 11-1 with a 1.05 earned-run average. In 79 1/3 innings, Wolf struck out 118 and allowed only 37 hits.
“It’s amazing watching him throw,” said Martin, El Camino Real’s center fielder. “You just sit back and wait for the next fly ball or strikeout. It just gets repetitive. You knew when Randy was pitching you were going to win.”
Wolf started high school with the reputation of being a good pitcher. He pitched a no-hitter in an all-star game the summer before his freshman year. But El Camino Real Coach Mike Maio wanted to develop him as a hitter his first two years, so Wolf played solely in the outfield. He batted .404 as a freshman and .387 as a sophomore.
“We knew he could pitch,” Maio says. “That wasn’t a question. But we were bringing him along in the outfield. If I’m going to be wrong on a freshman, I’m going to be wrong waiting and using him too late rather than too early.”
Maio points out that even Ryan McGuire, who is the only player other than Wolf to start for four years at El Camino Real, didn’t pitch as a freshman. McGuire later pitched and played first base at UCLA and was drafted in the third round last year by the Boston Red Sox. Wolf can expect to follow McGuire into the draft.
Scouts’ assessments of Wolf vary. About 200 watched closely when Wolf pitched last summer at the Area Code Games, a showcase for the stars of the high school class of 1994. Wolf’s fastball has been clocked at 82 m.p.h., but the pitch moves. He has an excellent curve and a changeup, and throws all three pitches with pinpoint control. His greatest advantage, however, is baseball’s dearth of outstanding left-handed pitchers.
At 5-feet-11 and 180 pounds, he might not add much to his fastball. He also has the scholarship to Pepperdine in his back pocket, meaning it would probably take at least a $150,000 bonus to sign him. The Baltimore Orioles needed a package worth $300,000 to buy Newbury Park shortstop David Lamb out of his commitment to Pepperdine last summer.
The last thing Wolf wants, of course, is to talk about money.
“I haven’t really thought about it much,” he says. “I’m just trying to concentrate on this year and get back to Dodger Stadium.”