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AMERICAN LEGION / JEFF FLETCHER : For Hanel, Smoke Has Good, Bad Definitions

It’s a cliche about relief pitchers: They put out fires.

But for one of Camarillo’s starting pitchers, it’s reality.

Aaron Hanel couldn’t pitch for Camarillo last weekend in the Area 6 playoffs because he had just started his new job with the San Luis Obispo Fire Department.

While many teen-agers are slinging burgers at McDonald’s, Hanel has been fighting blazes--as a cadet or as a full-time firefighter--since he was 16.

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Hanel, whose father is the fire chief at Camarillo State Hospital, said he’s wanted to follow in his footsteps since he was a kid.

Which wasn’t long ago.

“It’s just the fact that I can help some people and save some lives,” he said. “It’s a big adrenaline rush.”

Hanel started working as a cadet with his father two years ago. He helped fight the devastating fires in the Malibu area in 1993.

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Last summer he went through formal, academy training in Camarillo. This year he applied for a seasonal job--just during the June-to-October fire season--in San Luis Obispo, and he started two weeks ago.

He spends four days a week on call in San Luis Obispo, and the other three days back home in Camarillo. His four days last week happened to coincide with the four days of the Area 6 playoffs.

But, in a testament to Camarillo’s pitching depth, the team still won without Hanel, a right-hander with a 10-2 record and a 2.04 earned-run average.

Hanel said he has traded off shifts in San Luis Obispo to allow him to pitch at the State tournament, which will begin Saturday in Yountville.

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Camarillo will open the State tournament against San Jose at noon Saturday in Yountville, near Napa.

In other first-round games, El Segundo faces San Juan Capistrano at 9 a.m. and Citrus Heights plays Lodi at 3 p.m.

The winner of the double-elimination tournament, which concludes Tuesday, will advance to the Western regional in Las Vegas, Aug. 18-22.

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Because California has so many teams, the runner-up also advances to regional play, heading to the Northwest regional in Yakima, Wash., on the same dates.

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Chuck Fick, coach of the last local team that advanced to the State tournament, said he thinks Camarillo has a good chance to win at Yountville because of its pitching depth.

“I think they’ve got what it takes to win [State],” said Fick, who led Newbury Oaks to the World Series title in 1992. “I think they have the pitching and catching to carry them through. They are solid up the middle and they are well coached.”

Fick, a St. Louis Cardinal scout, said the advice he would give Camarillo Coach Dave Soliz is not to get too fancy by saving pitchers for certain games.

“Don’t wait for tomorrow because tomorrow may never come,” Fick said. “What I can tell Mr. Soliz is from this point on, I wouldn’t be concerned about keeping my players happy and worrying about playing time.

“I would just go with my horses and ride them all the way back to the stable.”

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Three years later, the members of the champion Newbury Oaks team have quite a record of success beyond American Legion.

Shortstop David Lamb and pitchers Adam West, Tighe Curran and Jeff Hook are all playing either Class-A or rookie-level pro baseball.

Jeff Naster, Robert Fick, Ryan Kritscher and Jim Chergey are playing Division I college baseball.

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Mike Bland, involved in on-field fights with Newhall last summer and again Friday in the Area 6 playoffs, said the recent scuffle was much more violent than last year’s.

“Last year was like a wrestling match,” he said. “This was like [the video game] Mike Tyson’s Punchout.”


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