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Full Speed Ahead

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ready, aim, fire. . . .

A 30-gun salute will greet each pitch thrown Friday by Jon Garland and Sean Douglass, look-alike, sound-alike right-handers with smoking fastballs who will duel in a game at the San Fernando tournament.

It’s a good guess a major-league scout from each team will be in the stands with speed guns. Where else would they be? The air will be filled with more radar than a final exam at the CHP academy.

Ready, aim, fire. . . .

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The region’s top two pro prospects will trade 90-mph pitches like unbeaten heavyweights throwing roundhouse punches. They’ll even throw them to one another. Both are home-run hitters who bat third in their lineups.

Garland and Kennedy High, ranked No. 1 in The Times’ preseason regional poll, face Douglass and fifth-ranked Antelope Valley in a widely anticipated season-opener.

How often does a fireworks show begin with the grand finale? The game has been moved from Kennedy to Pierce College to accommodate the scouts, who must be situated behind home plate to get accurate radar readings.

Yet the high-frequency radio waves will be countered by a low-key approach from the pitchers. Both say the game doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme, except that the entire baseball universe will be on hand, radar guns in hand.

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This is the first meeting between Garland and Douglass, as in, the first time they’ll have met, period.

They might think they are looking in a mirror. They both are 6 feet 5 1/2 and 200 pounds. Both wear prescription glasses and begin their third varsity season under a microscope.

Both have focused strictly on baseball since T-ball, when they already were the tallest and most talented players.

They also share a laid-back demeanor and spend time away from baseball outdoors and far from the clamoring crowd.

Garland’s escape is hurtling down mountains on a snowboard. Douglass prefers fishing, having spent as much time on water as he has the mound.

But there will be no escaping the scrutiny Friday. Both players are projected to go in the draft somewhere from late in the first round to the third round. At this point, Garland is held in slightly higher regard--he is a preseason All-American by Baseball America magazine.

Convince a major league team you are a first-round pick and become a rich man at 18.

Pressure?

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“I’ve learned to deal with the fact scouts are going to be at almost every game,” Garland said. “The game starts and I don’t think about that at all.”

Said Douglass: “I like the pressure, it makes me perform better. It forces you to bring yourself to another level, to bring out the extra.”

THEIR BACKGROUNDS

The climb to this level has been as smooth as the free-and-easy throwing mechanics both employ. Garland grew up in Granada Hills and Douglass in Lancaster, playing ball and going to school like any other kid.

“A lot of people wouldn’t believe this but by the time Jon was seven or eight I knew he could get his college paid for playing baseball,” said Vikki Garland, Jon’s mother. “He was always very coordinated, always big.”

Vikki, who raised Jon and his two sisters after divorcing from Jon’s father when Jon was young, coached her son for several years in the North Valley Pony League.

“Those were some of the best times of my life,” she said. “In all honesty, there are a lot of jerks who coach. He wasn’t going to have a coach who let him throw curves at age nine.”

As a Kennedy freshman, Garland was junior varsity most valuable player of the North Valley League.

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“He was like a big puppy dog, kind of clumsy, but you could tell he had potential,” Kennedy Coach Manny Alvarado said. “He’s gone from being gangly and shy to becoming a confident team leader.”

Garland’s first moment of varsity glory came as a hitter. During a tournament in Las Vegas during his sophomore season, he came off the bench to hit a game-winning home run.

His maturation as a pitcher accelerated last season after he beat Orange County power Esperanza in a tournament game.

“They loaded the bases with none out early in the game and he struck out their three, four and five hitters,” Alvarado said. “That really opened my eyes.”

Much of Douglass’ improvement has come this past off-season, when he made the drive to Los Angeles as often as it took to improve his game.

He played in the Area Code Games last summer and on the Baltimore Orioles’ scout team during the fall. His ears were perked the entire time.

“When I think about where I was last year and where I am now, there is no comparison,” he said. “I listened to advice from everybody and took what made sense.

“I totally changed my mechanics. I was throwing across my body and tiring by the fifth inning. It’s a lot easier to throw the ball now.”

Like Garland, Douglass entered high school tall, skinny and sometimes falling all over himself.

“The last two years he was just growing up,” Antelope Valley Coach Ed t’Sas said. “You can see the maturity.”

THEIR FUTURE

Douglass’ love of fishing was a factor in his signing a letter of intent with Pepperdine in November.

“You can sit in the classroom and see the ocean,” he said.

Garland signed with USC, which also pursued Douglass. Trojan coaches, in fact, sent Douglass a letter after he chose Pepperdine--something about him not wanting to play with the best. The Waves are coached by former USC assistant Frank Sanchez.

Realistically, neither player is likely to set foot on any campus next fall.

Both want to play pro baseball and unless their stock drops drastically, scouts say Garland and Douglass will be offered enough in signing bonuses to trump their college scholarships.

“If it looks good after the draft, I’ll probably sign,” Douglass said. “But I want my college education. I like Pepperdine. I just have to wait and see.”

Garland’s closest advisor is his cousin, John Bushart, a former Thousand Oaks High, Cal State Northridge and minor league pitcher whose mother, Phyllis, is Vikki Garland’s sister.

Bushart is beginning his second season as Kennedy’s pitching coach.

“Having John is like having a jump on the game,” Vikki Garland said. “He knows the pitfalls to watch out for. It’s like playing poker and knowing what everyone else has.”

Bushart supervised Garland’s off-season weight-lifting and throwing regimen, adding muscle and velocity.

“Jon has a level head, he knows what he wants and he’s going after it,” Bushart said. “As far as having an idea how to pitch, he learns every time he goes out to the mound.

“He doesn’t make the same mistake twice.”

THE GAME

Garland’s favorite expression around the house is, “Calm down,” and that’s precisely how both pitchers are responding to the build-up for their matchup.

“It’s not like the World Series, it’s just another high school game,” Douglass said.

Batting excites both players as much as anything. The batter’s box will provide a great view of the other’s stuff.

Both throw four-seam and two-seam fastballs clocked as high as 93 mph, and worked during the off-season to develop change-ups.

Douglass throws a slider and a curve, and Garland throws a hard curve that many scouts believe is his best pitch.

Their arsenals will be on display Friday. Gentlemen, calibrate your radar.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Sean Douglass

Senior, 6 Feet 5 1/2, 200 Pounds, Throws Right, Bats Right

1996 Statistics

Batting

At-Bats: 87

Runs: 23

Hits: 28

Avg.: .322

HRs: 5

RBIs: 20

*

Pitching

Games: 17

Inn.: 71.2

Hits: 54

SO: 77

BB: 22

ER: 19

W-L: 8-4

ERA: 1.86

Jon Garland

Senior, 6 Feet 5 1/2, 200 Pounds, Throws Right, Bats Right

1996 Statistics

Batting

At-Bats: 99

Runs: 20

Hits: 30

Avg.: .303

HRs: 7

RBIs: 28

*

Pitching

Games: 14

Inn.: 79

Hits: 52

SO: 92

BB: 27

ER: 20

W-L: 11-1

ERA: 1.77

Baseball Top 10

Preseason rankings of regional high school baseball teams by The Times.

SCHOOL: 1. Kennedy

‘96 RECORD: 31-3

COMMENT: Lost six starters from its City Section championship team but has reloaded.

*

SCHOOL: 2. Camarillo

‘96 RECORD: 20-5

COMMENT: Rising program boasts the most talent in the Marmonte League.

*

SCHOOL: 3. Hart

‘96 RECORD: 21-7

COMMENT: Tradition of strong teams will not end this season. Pitching depth is the only question.

*

SCHOOL: 4. Chatsworth

‘96 RECORD: 22-7

COMMENT: Coach Tom Muesborn gets the most out of his players and has plenty of talent.

*

SCHOOL: 5. Antelope Valley

‘96 RECORD: 17-11

COMMENT: Douglass and Holiday give the Antelopes the best pitching combination in the region.

*

SCHOOL: 6. El Camino Real

‘96 RECORD: 20-10

COMMENT: Another strong City program that has the lineup to match up against the best.

*

SCHOOL: 7. Royal

‘96 RECORD: 24-3

COMMENT: Lost plenty to graduation but might have Marmonte League’s best pitching, defense.

*

SCHOOL: 8. Poly

‘96 RECORD: 27-6-1

COMMENT: Parrots must deal with Sylmar, North Hollywood before thinking about return to City final.

*

SCHOOL: 9. Crespi

‘96 RECORD: 21-8

COMMENT: Strong pitching and outfield should enable the Celts to challenge in Mission League.

*

SCHOOL: 10. Quartz Hill

‘96 RECORD: 18-7

COMMENT: Pitching rivals Antelope Valley’s. Catcher Jo’Sean Lyles is top hitter and team leader.


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