Mission College outfielder Gary Matthews is one player who apparently made a wise move by not signing to play professionally after the San Diego Padres picked him in the 13th round of last year's June draft.
His market value might be considerably higher after this season.
Matthews, a switch-hitter from Granada Hills High and son of the former major leaguer whose name he bears, led the Free Spirit with seven home runs (five left-handed) as of Wednesday.
He was second in batting (.359 average) among players with 100 or more at-bats and third in runs batted in with 26. Last season, he batted .320 with two home runs and 22 RBIs.
"He is playing more like a man than a little boy," Mission Coach John Klitsner said.
The Padres own the rights to Matthews until the June draft, but that hasn't discouraged other teams from scouting the sophomore. Matthews also was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 38th round out of Granada Hills High.
"There's a lot of interest in him right now," Klitsner said. "He's our top professional prospect. He has gotten stronger and his bat has some juice to it."
Homeless Brahmas Roll
Operating without a place to call its own hasn't hampered the drive toward a possible state championship for the Pierce men's volleyball team.
The Brahmas, who have been forced to practice and play matches in neutral courts because the school gym was condemned after the Jan. 17 earthquake, are 14-0 overall and lead the Western State Conference at 13-0.
"This team is a very cohesive group," Pierce Coach Ken Stanley said. "They have not been very spirited in practices but they have done everything we've asked them to do."
But, Stanley said, few people would be overly excited during 1 1/2-hour workouts that call for the players and coaches to gather at 5:45 a.m. at Valley College, where the Brahmas now practice and play their home matches.
"It's hard to walk in that gym at that hour and be fired up," Stanley said.
CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE
There's a fine line separating fearless and foolhardy.
Some might think Northridge right-hander John Najar straddled the line.
Najar, who broke a bone in his right forearm last weekend while throwing a pitch in a game against San Diego State, knew he had a hairline crack in the bone for three weeks. After experiencing extreme pain in the forearm all season, Najar finally had it examined after a victory over Cal State Sacramento on March 19.
Once it was determined the bone was cracked, Coach Bill Kernen offered to let Najar sit as long as it took for the problem to mend. Najar was told by physicians that if he continued to pitch, the bone might break completely.
Najar weighed the risks. Already sidelined by an arm injury was Keven Kempton, another member of the three-man starting rotation. Najar also hoped he might be drafted in June.
"We were running out of guys," Najar said. "I had to (step) up for the team."
Obviously, Najar demonstrated an ability to pitch in extreme pain, which might be enough for some folks to question his sanity. But pitchers are a breed apart.
Said Najar: "It hurt like hell, but I wanted (the ball)."
A month ago, the Northridge baseball team hit its high-water mark for the year. A stirring comeback capped a three-game sweep of nationally ranked Hawaii at Northridge as the Matadors jumped atop the Western Athletic Conference West Division standings.
Tempers flared during the series, replete with an obscene gesture from a Hawaii infielder. Matador players wondered aloud how they would be received by fans in Honolulu.
Well, Hawaii's nose dive continued. In fact, the Rainbows are dead last in the WAC West at 4-8, and so much for the much-anticipated showdown.
Then again, junior first baseman Jason Shanahan, who made the trip to Honolulu last year, said there probably wouldn't have been much venom from the Rainbow fans anyway.
"They mostly kind of sit back and eat their snack bar food until Hawaii gives them something to cheer about," Shanahan said. "It's not the loudest place we play. It's hard to say (how we will be received now)."
Last season, Northridge won one of three games at Hawaii, which plays in 4,300-seat Rainbow Stadium, considered one of the best facilities in NCAA Division I. It has a synthetic surface and measures 340 feet down the lines and 400 to center. The outfield wall is 12 feet high.
In other words, it isn't exactly homer-friendly Matador Field.
"It's a huge yard," Shanahan said. "For the most part, you try to stay normal (with the swing), but we can't hit 15 flies a game and expect to win. You need line drives there; anything else doesn't turn out real well unless you absolutely cream the ball."
Has Marty Slimak been hanging around with Sparky Anderson too much?
During the course of a short interview this week, Slimak, Cal Lutheran's baseball coach, referred to one of his players as "short for his size" and said another was "young for his age."
Anderson, the Detroit Tigers manager and legendary abuser of the English language, lives in Thousand Oaks during the off-season. He is a regular at Cal Lutheran's benefit golf tournament. Hmmm.
There have been scouts aplenty at Cal Lutheran baseball games this season. The Kingsmen have at least two players worth watching. Jason Wilson, the team's center fielder and leadoff hitter, is batting .338--and .421 in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference--and has stolen 16 bases in 19 attempts.
The senior from Sacramento is a right-handed thrower, a left-handed hitter, a deft outfielder and getting better all the time. "If someone ever gave him a (professional) shot, they would be very pleased," Slimak said.
Wilson reaches base in almost half his plate appearances and he knows what to do once he gets there. Said Slimak, who has been a coach at Cal Lutheran five seasons: "He is by far a cut above anyone who has ever run the bases here."
The knock on Wilson is his size (5-foot-10). "But his bat has pop," Slimak said. "He's as solid as a brick, has great bat control and has great hands for the bunt."
Scott Sebbo is the other player Slimak said might have a major league future.
The 6-1 senior has taken root at one position for the first time in his college career, and his defense is vastly improved.
A utility player last season, Sebbo won the catcher's job this year but was subsequently moved to third base.
"Since we moved him to third, he's been almost flawless for us," Slimak said.
Sebbo has four errors in 20 games and has been his usual force on offense. He is batting .392--.429 in conference games--with 26 RBIs, two homers and a team-high nine doubles.
"If it wasn't for Chris Fick, he'd be leading this team in almost everything," Slimak said.
Fick, the team's designated hitter, is batting a team-best .477 and leads the Kingsmen with 10 homers and 33 RBIs.
What does a team have to do to earn a little respect?
When the NCAA Division III baseball ratings came out two weeks ago, Cal Lutheran was ranked eighth.
Between then and Monday, when the poll came out again, the Kingsmen played twice--defeating Division II Cal State Los Angeles, 9-5, and Division I Cal State Northridge, 2-1. So where did Cal Lutheran move in the polls?
The Kingsmen (18-4-1) are ranked 10th in the latest poll, much to the amusement of their coaching staff.
"Polls are real strange," " Slimak said. "Anybody who lives and dies with them is going to be in trouble anyway."
For the record, Slimak likes Cal Lutheran's perch. "Maybe we'll sneak up on some people," he said.
What do the cities of Newbury Park and Salem, Ore., have in common?
Apparently, both places produce some pretty good small-college softball players.
Three of the Kingsmen's top players are from Salem and two other standouts are from Newbury Park.
Heidi Stevens, a sophomore from Sprague High in Salem, has a record of 7-3 as a pitcher and a batting average of .408. Shortstop Aimee Snider, a sophomore from South Salem High, has scored 27 runs, slugged three home runs and is batting .408. Snider's identical twin, Bekkah, is playing third base and batting .318 with 16 runs batted in.
Meanwhile, two players from Newbury Park are pacing the team in batting average. Tracy Little, a freshman second baseman, is batting a team-best .513 and leads Cal Lutheran with 33 runs scored and six stolen bases. Laree Reynolds, a senior outfielder, is batting .507 with six doubles, three homers and 25 RBIs.
Beck Draws Scouts
He doesn't have the record to prove it, but Chris Beck, the Mustangs' pitching ace, has been throwing well enough to draw the interest of professional scouts.
Beck, a senior right-hander, is 4-5, but he has struck out 109 in 76 innings--an average of almost 13 per nine innings.
Beck's best pitch is his curveball, one which a scout told Master's Coach Chris Harrison graded out as a 48 on a scale of 50.
"He's got a very good curveball," Harrison said. "That's what gets the attention from scouts."
Beck also has an improved fastball. His pitches are routinely clocked in the mid-80s, a five-mile-an-hour improvement from last season.
Beck already owns school career records for 26 victories, 311 strikeouts and 327 1/3 innings.
Around the Campuses . . .
* Cal Lutheran on Friday will play its first SCIAC baseball game in 41 days. During that span, the Kingsmen have played only seven times.
* With 10 Foothill Conference baseball games remaining, Antelope Valley (11-11, 5-8) already has equaled its 1993 victory total in conference games and has won five more games overall than last season.
* It may not have been conventional, but it worked. In Pepperdine's 18-4 pasting of Northridge, the Waves three times removed pitchers after the count reached 2 and 0. All three times, the new pitcher retired the Northridge batter.
* Northridge set a dubious team record Tuesday. Matador pitchers unloaded three wild pitches against Pepperdine to bring the team's season total to 53, breaking the single-season mark set in 1993 of 50.
* Northridge enters a three-game series at Hawaii this weekend with an 18-19 record. In his six-year tenure, only once has one of Coach Bill Kernen's teams lost more than 20 games. Northridge was 39-22 in 1990, his second year. Sixteen regular-season games remain.
* Beth Burton of Cal State Northridge moved to fourth on the all-time Matador list in the women's shotput with a third-place effort of 47-7 1/4 in Saturday's meet against UCLA and UC Irvine. The mark exceeded the provisional qualifying standard (47-2) for the NCAA track and field championships at Boise State in June.
Staff writers Fernando Dominguez, Steve Elling, Mike Hiserman and John Ortega contributed to this notebook.