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Former SCC Pitcher Black Welcomes Second Chance

David Black and baseball have a thing going. It’s lasted for years. He loves baseball, loves pitching. But the game frequently has jilted him, leaving him an emotional wreck at least once.

He has tried breaking it off, but the lure of the game is intoxicating. Black, a right-handed pitcher from Southern California College, keeps coming back for more. Since graduating, he’s played in Ecuador, almost journeyed to Canada and now, after three unsuccessful attempts to quit, has landed a spot with the Class-A San Bernardino Spirit.

You might think Black is blissful now, happy to be pitching professionally after a two-year struggle to find a minor league team that would take him. You also might think he has his emotions under control after wrestling with them since graduating from SCC in 1992.

Wrong. He is still a bit confused.

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“I love the chance to play,” he said. “I love the opportunity to pitch, but baseball itself has treated me poorly. The funniest thing is that my friends are happier for me than I am. I do know I love to pitch. I have fun pitching and I have fun meeting new people.”

So, Black simply enjoys the fact that he’s being paid to throw a baseball past another man. Further analysis would merely cloud the issue at this point, and Black wants things as simple as possible right now.

He knows he’s not on a fast track to the major leagues and that he’s lucky to have a job. The Spirit is an independent team, unaffiliated with any big league club. Many of the team’s players are either castoffs or couldn’t-cut-its from other teams, although it’s doubtful any of them can match Black’s past.

He wouldn’t be playing for San Bernardino if not for what he calls “an emotional breakdown” at Los Angeles International Airport, a phone call from a friend and the Spirit’s desperate need for pitching help.

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Black pitched in Ecuador last summer and hoped to return again this season, but after contract talks broke off he weighed other options. One involved playing in Canada, but he was unsure that was what he should do.

He served as SCC’s pitching coach this past season and had earned a promotion at the restaurant where he has worked for the past 6 1/2 years.

“It was the hardest decision to make in my life, career-wise,” said Black, 0-0 with a 6.75 earned-run average in 10 2/3 innings for the Spirit. “I was so uncertain about my future and my present state of growth.”

Nagging worries filled his head. “If I go, how is this going to impact the next 10 years of my life?” he wondered.

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At the last minute, he decided to go, hastily tossing some things into a suitcase and heading to the airport. Once at LAX, the panic hit. In the end, couldn’t talk himself into getting on the plane, so he cashed in the plane ticket and returned home.

“I decided there was nothing wrong with this trip,” he said. “I just didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave. Finally, I gave myself permission to quit baseball.”

Two weeks later, the Spirit, acting on a tip from former SCC pitcher Tim Fortugno, called Black. Again, he wasn’t sure it was what he really wanted to do.

“I told Tim, ‘Honestly, I really don’t know. I’m confused,’ ” Black said.

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Eventually, he went for a tryout. The Spirit liked Black’s arm and signed him on July 21.

But before the deal was done, Black had one request: Could he continue working part time for the restaurant? The club agreed.

“And now I’m in Modesto,” he said during a phone interview from the team’s hotel. “It’s really easy to get caught up in the fantasy. But it’s not easy to go through the grind from hotel to hotel, trying not to watch too much trash TV.”

With only a few weeks left in the season, Black is determined to avoid thoughts of what’s next. At this point, he’s not certain he will play professionally again.

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“I’m doing what I thought I would always do,” he said of playing in the minors. “If it ended tomorrow, I’d be bummed, but I know I could be happy doing something else.

“If I got some offers, yeah I would consider (playing next year). Right now, there are no offers. I want to keep my mind clear until there are other offers.”

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You normally wouldn’t find recommendations on how to spend a summer night in This Space. But if you’re thinking of watching some minor league ball while the big boys are on strike, This Space suggests heading for Lake Elsinore’s new ballpark, The Diamond.

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The Angels’ new Class-A home--they were based in Palm Springs for many years--will remind you of a smaller version of Camden Yards. Or perhaps Tempe Diablo Stadium, the Angels’ spring training base in Arizona.

Lake Elsinore’s ballpark has an old-time feel, with its red-brick facade and green wrought-iron gates. But other appealing features include a grassy embankment down the right-field line that serves as the cheap seats, luxury boxes and a restaurant above the left-field corner.

And after stumbling to one of the worst starts in professional baseball, the Storm is leading the California League’s Southern Division.

If you go, take a close look at hard-hitting catcher Todd Greene, projected to be one of the Angels’ stars of the future. He is hitting .293 with 28 home runs and 104 runs batted in.

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