Cal Ripken might upstage Lou Gehrig but he has nothing on these guys.
Gregg Wallis, 12, and Marshall Plouffe, 13, already have displayed dedication to baseball usually associated with the likes of Baltimore’s Ironman.
In the past year they have played in more than 120 games.
Now these baseball junkies are experiencing withdrawal, that discomforting sensation when balls and bats are stashed in the garage and the calendar is clear of notations such as “practice--5:00" and “doubleheader--1:00.” All they have to look forward to is (ugh!) school.
“It’s been about two weeks,” Wallis said. “That’s about the longest rest we’ve had.”
They last competed in the Amateur Athletic Union championships in Bernsville, Minn., as members of the Westlake Senators. Westlake finished second in a field of 50, losing to a club from Florida managed by former major leaguer Chet Lemon.
But the loss wasn’t as disappointing as the appearance.
“We were hoping not to go to Minnesota,” said Marshall’s father, Warren. “We were hoping to be in Williamsport.”
Williamsport, Pa., is the site of the Little League World Series, which Wallis, as an 11-year-old starting third baseman, played in the year before. In 1994, Northridge’s all-stars lost by a run to Venezuela in the final.
In 1995, Wallis almost made it back. This year’s Northridge squad, coached by Warren Plouffe, swept through the first two rounds to reach the divisional tournament in Mission Viejo.
A 3-2 setback to Eagle Rock early in the tournament sent Northridge to the losers’ bracket, forcing the team to play four games in five days.
Plouffe’s performance--striking out 13 of 15 batters and hitting a home run--helped extend Northridge’s season until Aug. 3, when Diamond Bar overcame two homers by Wallis to eliminate the Valley squad, 18-14.
The season finally was over.
For two days.
Then they left for Minnesota.
“It’s fun to go to other cities,” Wallis said. “Marshall even kissed right field in the Metrodome [in Minneapolis].”
But it wasn’t so much fun returning to California television sets to watch Taiwan trounce Spring, Tex., in the Little League title game.
“It was tough watching that game,” said Marshall Plouffe, whose five teams won more than 80% of their games in the last year. “If it’d been us, the score wouldn’t have been 18-3.”
Still, Warren Plouffe has his doubts about whether his squad could have beaten Taiwan.
Plouffe, manager of a pool service company--which he says he neglected a bit for baseball’s sake--has been coaching Marshall since he was 8.
He is not concerned that Marshall--whom he estimates was the winning pitcher in more than 30 games in the past 12 months--has been overworked, even though he recently started throwing a curveball.
“As long as I watch his innings, it’s OK,” said Warren, who played in the 1970s for Cleveland High. “He only pitched three innings a game during the regular season. It was during the playoffs that he threw more because we needed him.”
Lynn Wallis, Gregg’s mother, does worry about wear and tear, though, especially when her southpaw son is on the mound.
“Our family orthopedist cringes whenever he throws a curveball,” she said.
So far, though, both players have avoided injury. Except, of course, for that one time that Plouffe pitched an inning with a broken ankle.
“I got hit with a line drive,” Plouffe said. “It hurt a lot, but I didn’t know it was broken.”
Most bodily harm these days is inflicted on Warren Plouffe, when he pitches batting practice. He has another young line-drive hitting son on the way up--9-year-old Trevor.
“He’ll be better than both of these guys,” Warren Plouffe said, laughing.
Trevor may discover it’s tough to be a coach’s son, though.
“If anything, I’m harder on Marshall than my other players because I know what he can do,” Warren Plouffe said.
Marshall nodded: “I hear it on the way home from games if I don’t play well.”
The sports-aholic lifestyle can be a strain on school as well, though both Wallis and Plouffe are top students.
“I don’t get out until 3:30, and then I have practice from 5 to 9,” Wallis said.
“It’s hard sometimes to do any work.”
Wallis will be a seventh-grader at Heschel Day School in Northridge next month.
Plouffe will be an eighth-grader at St. Joseph the Worker School in Canoga Park.
Both plan to play baseball in high school and, with any luck, beyond.
“As far as I can,” Wallis said.
He already has enjoyed his share of celebrity, meeting Jim Palmer and Steve Garvey in Williamsport, mingling with Tim Salmon, Chuck Finley an other Angels at Anaheim Stadium and playing baseball with Plouffe in the upcoming Patrick Swayze film, “Three Wishes.”
Lynn Wallis has three wishes too.
“The plan is for both of them to divide studying, baseball and doing their chores,” she said. “All of their chores.”
Eyes roll. Bring on fall ball.