Before he even graduated from middle school, 14-year old Tim Murphy found himself starting at third base for the Burroughs High American Legion team. That's how highly regarded Murphy is by Burroughs Coach Jose Valle.
"He's got all the tools and can play the game," Valle said.
Murphy is hitting .276 and has not made an error in four games as a starter. He attended Village Christian in Sun Valley from kindergarten through eighth grade. He is regarded as one of the top players in the Toluca Lake PONY League.
Valle wasn't concerned what older team members might think about an incoming freshman receiving immediate playing time.
"Believe me, this isn't something we've done before," Valle said. "I didn't think anyone was as developed as Tommy Perez. This guy is close or equal as Tommy."
Perez started for four years on the Burroughs varsity, just as Murphy--who said he has been excited about playing at Burroughs "since sixth grade"--figures to do.
After four years as cross-town rivals, graduating senior baseball players from Simi Valley and Royal highs are together again on the Santa Susana Legion team.
With high school Legion programs geared toward the development of younger players, recent baseball-playing graduates at Simi Valley and Royal had no local Legion option last summer.
To prevent a recurrence this year, the Santa Susana team was formed by Hal Byer and Randy Wayne, fathers of recent Royal graduates Mike Byer and Brett Wayne.
"The kids just wanted to relax and play ball and not be in the stressful situation of having to find other teams to catch on with," Hal Byer said.
The team includes Simi Valley standouts Todd Scherwin, Andy Karp and Brandon Voorhees and Royal players Byer, Wayne, Tony Ortega and Tyrone Kimbrough.
Most of the team competed with or against each other growing up. The team is sponsored by Santa Susana Youth Baseball, which Byer said paid about half of the team's $2,500 start-up expenses.
Another new Legion team in Ventura County's District 16 is Oxnard, comprised of players from Hueneme, Channel Islands and Santa Clara highs. But whereas Santa Susana appears to have the talent to be one of the district's top teams, Oxnard is simply trying to field enough players.
"It's not good, we're struggling right now," Oxnard co-Coach David Schoonmaker said. "This is a hard area to get kids to commit to baseball. A lot of them have to work to help their families and many of them don't have cars."
Hueneme High Coach Reg Welker said he thinks the Oxnard team is the first from the area to compete in the Legion organization in more than 10 years. Oxnard is designated a "B" team, meaning it includes no high school graduates.
Schoonmaker, a 1977 Hueneme graduate, coaches with Rene Martinez, a former Hueneme player and 1975 graduate. Schoonmaker said he and Martinez, who had coached together in Oxnard youth baseball, have so far invested most of their energy in lining up players.
"I just think there's a little more commitment near the Conejo grade," Schoonmaker said. "Up top, baseball is a priority 365 days a year."
Newhall Saugus Hart (8-0) and Encino Crespi (7-0) are off to the best starts in District 20. Crespi leads the Southern Division; Hart the Eastern Division.
Staff Writers Michael Lazarus and Eric Sondheimer contributed to this column.