City's Big-Time Tradition Owes Thanks to the 'Dream Maker'

Peter O'Malley fondly remembers the first City Section championship baseball game played at Dodger Stadium 29 years ago.

"There was a lot of anticipation to do it," he said. "None of us thought it would continue. I'm glad it has. It's baseball at its best. It's pure baseball."

There are hundreds of former Los Angeles high school players who owe a debt of gratitude to O'Malley, who has made it possible for City Section championship games to be played every season at Dodger Stadium since 1969.

O'Malley is the dream maker. Teenagers lucky enough to end their season playing at Dodger Stadium never forget the experience. O'Malley, former owner of the Dodgers, cherishes the magic of Dodger Stadium.

"You're standing on the field, looking up at the loge level, looking up at the club level, looking up at the reserve level, and it's like a guest standing in the Grand Canyon," he said.

On the eve of today's 3-A final between South Gate and Wilson and the 4-A final tonight matching Chatsworth and Woodland Hills El Camino Real at Dodger Stadium, I want to make sure players realize the special moment they are about to experience.

"There's not a time when I go back to watch a Dodger game that I don't remember being there," said Adam Schulhofer, a pitcher on Canoga Park's 1987 4-A championship team and now a teacher and coach at Canyon High.

"I have a team picture up on my wall at home. We cherish those memories. We know if it's not photo day, you may never touch the field again. It's definitely a cool thing to do."

Randy Wolf is on the verge of reaching the majors as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. He's in triple A and could one day pitch as a big leaguer at Dodger Stadium. But it won't change his memories from earning victories on the Dodger Stadium mound for El Camino Real in 1993 and '94.

"To be at the bottom of the dog pile is what it's all about," Wolf said. "It hurts for a little bit, but it's awesome."

Wolf can still hear the crowd roaring from the '93 final.

"It gave me chills when that last batter came to the plate," Wolf said. "There were 8,000 people but it sounded like 30,000. When they were saying my name, it was unbelievable. It's something you never forget."

Kevin Farlow was a sophomore at Kennedy in 1985 when the Golden Cougars played Banning for the City Section title. He hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the seventh inning at Dodger Stadium.

"That was one of the more memorable things of my life," said Farlow, who went on to play for Cal State Fullerton and spent seven years in the minor leagues. "I was only a 10th grader. I had a lot in front of me, but there wasn't much more to do to top that. Just the field itself is like walking into a cathedral. The grass is like carpet."

Farlow, 29, who works in the front office for the Sioux City (Iowa) Explorers in the Northern League, said of his Dodger Stadium experience, "It definitely was a special moment. I know at the high school age, you feel invincible and things continue to get better and better, but sometimes things don't work out. You should take advantage of the moments."

There are lessons to be learned at Dodger Stadium.

Kyle Sarosi, catcher on Sylmar's 1980 City Section championship team, was interviewed immediately after the game by a television reporter. Sarosi was so excited he told the interviewer, "All I want to do is go back home and have a beer."

Oops. Let's just say his parents weren't pleased. Now 36 and selling auto parts, Sarosi advises, "Think twice" before talking. But he has no regrets.

"It's like being on cloud nine all day long," he said. "That whole day is a glow."

Jon Garland, a former Kennedy pitcher and first-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs last June, played on championship teams in 1995 and '96.

"Walking down the tunnel as a high school kid, stepping on the field for the first time, it's pretty unbelievable," he said. "There's nothing like the big dog pile at the end. It's crazy. You might get spiked and you wouldn't know it."

Many players try to take keepsakes from their Dodger Stadium visit, whether it's dirt in a bottle or grass in a paper bag.

"I saved my cleats and never used them again," Schulhofer said. "They have the Dodger dirt on them."

Mike Boyd, who pitched for Poly in the 1978 final, said he had a plastic bag in his back pocket and used it to scoop up brick dust after the game.

"The [team] picture still hangs on my wall," he said. "My son and I talk about it all the time and my memory won't ever go away."

How long does it take players to realize they just played at Dodger Stadium?

"It depends if you win or lose," Garland said. "If you win, it's on the bus ride home or in the locker room dressing. It hits you pretty quick. If you lose, I couldn't tell you."

Said Wolf: "You're lying in bed and realize what happened. It's awesome."

O'Malley is no longer running the Dodgers. But he believes what is now in its 30th season must continue. It's a tradition that the best high school baseball teams in Los Angeles end their season playing on the hallowed ground of Dodger Stadium.

"We've got to keep it going another 30 years," O'Malley said.

Eric Sondheimer is a columnist for The Times San Fernando Valley Edition.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World