There may be a quirk in the machinery of Major League Baseball--with the threat of replacement players becoming a reality--but at the high school level, America's national pastime is in full swing.
Franklin High hopes to maintain the level of play that made it the City Section 3-A Division champion in 1994.
Panther pitcher Jeff Deno, who has not lost a game in his high school career, will lead the charge for a repeat.
The Southeastern Conference remains the most competitive, with 1993 City 3-A Champion South Gate and perennial powers Roosevelt and Bell.
Along with Deno, Bell's John Moreno-Orozco--the only returning player from last year's City Times first team--and Lincoln's Cesar Casteneda are the top preseason candidates for player of the year.
Here is a look at the conferences. Team records are from last season.
Bell (21-5): What else is new? For the third consecutive year, the Eagles begin the season with the best pitching staff in the Central City. Moreno-Orozco, who was named to the 1994 City Times first team as a junior, was 6-1 with a 1.5 ERA last season. Larry Gayton, Temo Lopez and Guz Valenzuela, who quarterbacked the Eagles to their first City Section 3-A Division championship in football last December, round out the starting rotation.
Fremont (16-8): The Pathfinders field a young team but shouldn't have any problems scoring runs. Senior Alfonso Gandara and juniors Jorge Camacho and Carlos Manzo will provide plenty of offense for Fremont. In 1994, Camacho batted .379 with 17 RBIs, six doubles and 12 stolen bases. Manzo also stole 12 bases and batted .344 with a home run and 12 RBIs. Gandara batted .306 with 15 RBIs and five doubles.
Garfield (8-8): The Bulldogs will rely on the leadership of seniors Byron Valencia (pitcher) and Ramiro Cuevas (outfielder). Outfielder Andres Garcia and catcher Jose Burciaga, both juniors, are also among Garfield's top players.
Huntington Park (14-12): The Spartans were last year's Cinderella team, making it all the way to the 3-A finals, where they lost to Franklin. With few impact players returning, don't expect a repeat in '95. Coach Mark Chacon will rely on the pitching of right-handers Sergio Moreno and Paul Escamilla.
Jordan (12-14): Jordan may be the surprise of the conference with depth and talent at several key positions. Senior pitcher Oscar Lopez, who was 3-2 with a 3.39 ERA, will also play in the outfield. Senior Arturo Valera enters his fourth season as varsity shortstop and senior Ivan Ahumada is a two-year varsity catcher.
Locke (2-19): Pitcher Ellis Enyard returns after a strong sophomore season (3.25 ERA, 50 strikeouts). Enyard, who pitched Locke to both wins, also threw a four-hitter against South Gate in a 1-0 loss. Second baseman Juan Giron hit .269 with nine RBIs and four doubles last year. And sophomore Donte King was brought up from the junior varsity team where he hit .396 with a home run, 15 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.
Roosevelt (21-5): The Roughriders never lack a powerful slugger, and this year will be no exception with the return of senior Chris Minter. Minter hit .350 last season with four home runs. He will be joined by Brawlio Robledo, who hit a team-high .410. Right-hander Issac Hernandez, 4-0 in 1994, will try to keep that streak alive in '95.
South Gate (25-7): The 1993 City 3-A champion Rams' return ticket to Dodger Stadium was canceled by Franklin in the semifinals. But experience should give South Gate a third consecutive Conference title. Catcher Danny Majarro and outfielders Andy Silva and Jorge Zamora--all seniors--return from the championship team. Right-hander David Coria, who was 6-1 last season, heads a solid pitching staff.
Belmont (1-15): Third baseman Jose Gutierrez and utility player Jampier Arias are the only returning Sentinels with at least a full season of varsity experience. Southpaw Juan Cazueta, who also plays the outfield, has good velocity on his pitches and can also hit with power. As Coach Anthony Spera said: "There's nowhere for this team to go but up."
Franklin (21-4): Bell may have the area's best staff, but Franklin has the best pitcher in Jeff Deno. Over a two-year period, Deno has never lost a game (12-0) as a Franklin starter and has a microscopic 0.44 ERA and 52 strikeouts. He earned the win against South Gate in the semifinals and closed out the victory over Huntington Park in the championship game. The Panthers offense will be sparked by first baseman Oscar Cabrera, who hit .509 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs.
Lincoln (17-2): Cesar Casteneda, the Northern League Player of the Year, returns as the Tigers' cornerstone. Last season, the shortstop hit .625 with three home runs and 30 RBIs. Sophomore Jorge Erami hit .401 last year as a freshman and had four game-winning hits. Hector Arroyo, 5-1 with a 1.50 ERA in '94, is Lincoln's top pitcher.
Wilson (16-6): Last season, junior Fidel Catano earned all-conference honors with a 6-2 record and 1.98 ERA. Rafael Aispuro, who hit .358 with 19 RBIs last season, will provide offense and defense at shortstop. And junior Gus Arreola, who saw time as a catcher, third baseman and outfielder last year, will stay behind the plate this season.
Southern Pacific Conference
Crenshaw (12-14): The Cougars, who suffered a disappointing first-round loss at home to Huntington Park last season, return one of the deepest teams in the area. Crenshaw is led by brothers Todd Moore, who hit .345 with five home runs and 25 RBIs, and Tim Moore, who was 4-1 with an ERA of 0.91 and 15 strikeouts. First baseman Michael Hoard hit .299 with 15 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.
Dorsey (10-15): The Dons will rely heavily on the pitching of senior Reggie Douglas. Douglas, 3-2 last season, has a good variety of pitches and changes speeds very well. Second baseman John Watkins and first baseman Javier Martinez will be inserted into the rotation this season. Will Shumate, who played on the basketball team, is expected to bolster the Dons' lineup.
Washington (9-16): Three-year varsity third baseman Joseph George, who batted .375 last season, will be the centerpiece of a balanced Generals' team. Senior shortstop David Goss is Washington's best defensive player. Washington's trouble spot is its pitching, where junior Dartagnan Jackson is the lone holdover.
Los Angeles (0-16): This season, the Romans' short-term goal--perhaps its long-term as well--will be to notch its first win in three years. Seniors Ron Castillo, William Esquivel and Christian Chavez must perform well if this is to happen.
Manual Arts (9-10-1): Senior pitcher Jesus Rosales (5-3) won most of the Toilers' games last season and probably will this season as well. Third baseman David Sigala heads one of the area's better defensive teams. Senior Paul Gordon, one of the Toilers' fastest players, should stretch many singles into doubles.
Loyola (4-18-1): Loyola's team is young but talented with Kyle Spielbuehler, the football team's quarterback, heading the pitching staff. Junior Mike Giampalo, who was brought up from the junior varsity, will join Spielbuehler on the mound. Senior shortstop Raymond Kasper will need to provide leadership.
Verbum Dei (5-16): The Eagles have one of the area's better hitting teams. Junior Marquis Jackson, who hit .475 with three home runs and 30 RBIs last season, heads the list of sluggers. Catcher Corey Redeaux hit .410 with 16 RBIs and 15 stolen bases and utility player Ricardo Silver batted .425 with a home run and 15 RBIs.