Josh Belovsky was one of only two Vigilantes who made the team out of spring training who had not played professional baseball.
Belovsky, a 1991 Orange High graduate who entered the season a year removed from pitching at Kansas, is the envy of anyone with big-league dreams. He performed admirably as a closer and has signed with the Boston Red Sox.
Belovsky began the season working on his degree in kinesiology at Cal State Fullerton and serving as pitching coach for Orange Coast College.
Belovsky finished the season, which ended for the Vigilantes Wednesday night, being named the Western Baseball League's pitcher of the month for August. Opponents batted .067 as he went 2-0 with nine saves in 12 appearances with a 0.96 earned-run average. He struck out 19 and walked four in 18 2/3 innings.
Overall, he was 5-1 with 13 saves, a 1.61 ERA and 64 strikeouts (and only 15 walks) in 56 innings.
Belovsky said a slight adjustment in his mechanics, in which he turns a little more once he reaches his balance point, sparked his development. "That's helped me reach out and finish my pitches," Belovsky said, "which in turn has increased my velocity."
That adjustment came thanks to Vigilante Manager Buck Rodgers, a former Angel manager and major league catcher.
"He's come on by leaps and bounds," Rodgers said. "He's one of the best relievers in this league. I think he has a chance to do well with Boston whatever level they put him on. He needs experience, obviously, but I think he's going to be a quick comer and has a chance to pitch in the major leagues."
Belovsky said the Red Sox will probably send him to an instructional league in Florida or to a first-year winter ball league in Maryland.
This was the first season Belovsky wasn't a starting pitcher, and it seemed to suit him. He throws lots of strikes and keeps the ball down.
"It takes more than just natural ability [to reach the big leagues]," Rodgers said. "In Josh's case, he has the intestinal ability to be a short relief man. That's something you don't find every day, someone tough enough mentally and physically to do the job."
"I pitched opening night and gave up a two-run homer to [Chico's Nick] Shamburg," Belovsky said. "I got a new ball and said, 'OK, it's over; I've got it out of my system. Now do what you can do.' "
He has given up only two homers since. And not much else.
It's hard to imagine many minor league baseball players having their numbers retired, but the Vigilantes did that in tribute to retiring first baseman Alan Burke.
Burke played with the franchise from its inception four years ago when it was the Long Beach Barracudas. He is a 1988 Chino High graduate who played at Long Beach State.
"Alan is probably one of the pure RBI people," Rodgers said. "He has the ability to rise to the occasion with men on base. I don't think I've ever seen a person who can drive runs in, on any level, the way he does. He's a professional hitter. He was a joy to be around."
Burke finished his final season tied for second in the league in home runs (23) and third in RBIs (92).
The Vigilantes retired his No. 14 jersey Sunday in the middle of the sixth inning as 30 of his family members and friends watched.
Vigilante President Pat Elster plans to attend the Western Baseball League meetings Sept. 16-17 in Reno, to discuss his team's future in Mission Viejo. He said there are several scenarios he could share with the other owners: If there is no new stadium at Saddleback College or if the present facility is not sufficiently upgraded, the Vigilantes could sit out the 1999 season and hope negotiations between the city of Mission Viejo and the South Orange County Community College District prove fruitful, or he could look to relocate the team. Elster said he and his partners could consider selling the franchise. While General Manager Paula Pyers said Elster has been approached by a couple potential buyers "both in state and out of state," he said, at the moment, that is not a serious consideration. Elster said he would like to see the city and college district officials resume negotiations, which broke off recently when neither could agree on whose redevelopment funds would pay for the project.
Staff writer Mike Terry contributed to this story.