Dress Rehearsal for Bruins to Be
If Tom Lasorda bleeds Dodger blue, pitchers Kevin Jerkens and Austin Bryant of Van Nuys Notre Dame surely bleed UCLA blue and gold.
Jerkens and Bryant are ecstatic they may get to pitch at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium this week in the Area 6 American Legion baseball playoffs.
“It’s been a dream come true,” Jerkens said. “Growing up a Bruin fan all my life, I finally get a shot to play on their field.”
Said Bryant: “It’s so big for both of us. The chance to play on it is one of the coolest things to ever happen.”
Notre Dame plays Santa Susana today at noon in a first-round game at Birmingham High. The remaining games of the six-team, double-elimination tournament will be played at UCLA.
Jerkens and Bryant will attend UCLA this fall as freshmen. Jerkens will try to make the Bruins’ baseball team as a walk-on. Bryant is set to become the team’s manager.
“I’ll be the curveball specialist in batting practice,” Bryant said. “And, if they really like me. . . .”
Jerkens’ ties to UCLA might be of interest to USC fans. His parents, John and Linda, send out 200 Christmas cards each year with the score of the USC-UCLA football game on the cover. Of course, they only arrive during years in which UCLA wins.
The Bruins have won the last seven games, leaving Trojan fans on the mailing list leery of checking their mailboxes around Christmas.
“Every year, Linda sends it to me,” said Notre Dame Legion Coach Jody Breeden, a big USC fan. “I just laugh.”
When Notre Dame won five of six games over a grueling, four-day stretch to capture the District 20 championship last week, Jerkens and Bryant were the unsung heroes.
In 17 playoff innings, Jerkens had a 3.29 earned-run average.
Bryant pitched in 13 1/3 innings and finished with an 0.53 ERA.
Bryant, 5 feet 10 and 135 pounds, frequently is teased because his fastball is so slow.
“It’s probably 75 miles per hour,” he said.
And how about the curveball?
“It’s probably 60,” he said.
Cleveland High players called him “ninth-grader” last week. Others have shouted, “Hit it to Mexico.” and, “He’s got nothing.”
“They can talk all they want,” said Bryant, who has a 4.2 grade-point average. “I know I’m going to UCLA.”
Said Breeden: “Austin is 135 pounds of pure intensity. And Kevin, you can add 40 pounds to that. They’re the same way. They just get it done on intensity and hard work.”
Bryant charged off the mound last Sunday in the second inning of the district championship game against Newhall Saugus Hart after two outs.
“I thought it was three outs for some reason,” he said. “I went to sit down. [Teammate] Ryan Stonerock gave me a hug, ‘Hey Austin, it’s only two outs.’ I thought he was coming to congratulate me.”
Jerkens is enjoying this summer even more because his brother, Allen, helps coach Notre Dame. Allen graduated from UCLA in June after serving as the baseball team’s manager.
As for his future as a Bruin, Jerkens said, “If I don’t make the team, hey, I’m still going to UCLA. That’s enough.”
Bryant, though, looks forward to people knowing his name, even if they confuse him with a movie character.
“On our senior trip and at UCLA orientation, I go up to people and say, ‘How are you doing? I’m Austin Powers,’ ” he said. “They never forget my name. They go, ‘Hey, it’s Austin Powers.’ ”