On any given day this season, a third of the Milwaukee Brewers' starting lineup could feature graduates of Catholic high schools in the San Fernando Valley.
Third baseman Jeff Cirillo is entrenched at third base and earned an all-star berth last season, his fourth in the major leagues. But utility infielder Mark Loretta continues to impress and Bobby Hughes appears to have made the team as a reserve catcher.
Cirillo, 28, batted .288 with 82 runs batted in and led the team with 46 doubles last season. The Providence High graduate signed a four-year, $12.65 million contract in June.
Loretta, a 1989 graduate of St. Francis High, played in 132 games and batted .287 last season. He and Hughes, a 1989 Notre Dame graduate, are both 26 and lesser known. Despite their low profiles, Brewer Manager Phil Garner is solidly in their corner.
"Mark's made himself so valuable that either [another team] is going to make a deal to bring him in as a starting player or we at some time will make him a starting player here," Garner said.
"He's a lot smarter than most players and he's like a fireman in that when he comes to work each day, he doesn't know where the fire's going to be or even if there will be a fire--but he's ready."
Loretta, a natural shortstop who also played third, second and first last season, prefers to call himself Milwaukee's "10th man" and hopes to find a permanent starting spot in the near future.
"When every day you're at a different position, then you have to go over things in your head before the game starts," Loretta said. "If this is going to be my role for right now, I'm going to do my best at it. It does keep it interesting. No two days are the same."
Hughes' days were injury-filled the past two seasons. His poor physical condition and lack of focus dropped him from Garner's list of hot prospects even though he batted .310 at double-A Tucson last year.
"Bobby was high on my list three years ago, but I'd follow him [during the season] and I said, 'This kid can't make it,' " Garner said.
Facing a last chance with the Brewers this spring, Hughes embarked on an off-season conditioning program with a personal trainer in Playa del Rey.
Weight training, resistance training and running stairs in Santa Monica were part of a regimen Hughes described as "six days a week of hell."
But the work was worth it. Hughes, 6 feet 4 and 237 pounds, lost 30 pounds and has turned heads with a batting average that was .410 to start last week.
"It's made a big difference in my mobility and it's translated into a great spring for me," Hughes said. "The only regret I have is that I didn't take the same approach in other off-seasons. Who knows how many seasons it cost me? At least two."