Boatright Gets Game Skills in Shipshape

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sean Boatright's path to stardom was as linear as the throws he once made to first base.

Promoted to Trabuco Hills' varsity baseball team as a sophomore to fill a gap at second base, Boatright made tosses reminiscent of those made by a former New York Yankee second baseman known for his dreadful accuracy.

"He developed Chuck Knoblauch's disease where he could not throw the ball to the first baseman," recalled Trabuco Hills Coach Tim Ellis, who was then in his first season. "He just couldn't get the throw down. It was a mental thing."

Boatright lasted only a handful of games before being sent back to the junior varsity, where he straightened out his throw. He returned to the varsity by the end of the season, determined to stick this time.

Switched to center field, Boatright blossomed during a junior season in which he hit 10 home runs and accomplished an amazing feat by driving in nine runs over the course of a doubleheader.

But he was just getting started, really.

He embarked on a tenacious workout regimen that included running, lifting and stretching as he continued to improve his game while playing in the Connie Mack League and practicing on his own. Ellis would often find Boatright working on his swing or his defense on the Mustangs' baseball field--during football season.

"All the things I accomplished [as a junior] made me want to work even harder," Boatright said. "I really wanted to step it up, so I started playing year-round."

Before his senior season, Boatright wrote on an index card his goals for the year: hit .450, improve defensively and be selected as an All-Orange County first-team player for the second consecutive season.

Missions accomplished.

Boatright hit exactly .450, made only one error and has been selected The Times' Orange County Player of the Year. He also set career highs with 13 home runs and 32 runs scored, and set a school record for career home runs with 23.

"He's the hardest person to pitch to that we faced all year," Capistrano Valley catcher Brad Davis said. "He can hit any pitch, and he can hit any pitch for power. That's what makes him so effective."

Boatright also impressed in the outfield, especially in a game against Mission Viejo when he dug a cleat into a chain-link fence and robbed Collin Ashton of at least a run-scoring double.

But his best work may have come in the playoffs, during which he hit two home runs in Trabuco Hills' first-round victory over Anaheim. He drove in a crucial run in the Mustangs' second-round win against Hueneme, then hit a bases-empty home run that set the tone for Trabuco Hills' quarterfinal triumph over Irvine. That victory put the Mustangs in the semifinal round, where their magical run ended against Riverside Poly.

"We had never reached the semifinals in school history," Boatright said, "so I was very pleased."

Boatright was not selected in major league baseball's amateur draft earlier this month after stating he would be asking for a $300,000 signing bonus, but his future is promising. He has signed with Long Beach State, where he is expected to play center field and room with Davis, the Capistrano Valley catcher.

"You always wonder how freshmen are going to make the jump," Long Beach Associate Head Coach Mike Weathers said. "But he's so solid with his swing, he's going to be further along than most freshmen. He runs well enough that he can cover ground, and his arm is above average."

Boatright is also one of 20 California high school players selected to play in the Sunbelt Classic, a tournament that features all-star teams from eight states. It begins today in Shawnee, Okla.

Throughout his high school career, Boatright remained a keep-to-himself player. But this year, Ellis and the Mustangs looked upon Boatright as a leader.

"By nature, he's not that kind of kid. He's not real outspoken," Ellis said. "But he was going to have to take that role, like it or not. Gradually, he became more comfortable and led by example more than anything else. He swung the bat well in the playoffs and really started picking our team up from an emotional standpoint."

Boatright said his resolve was toughened during his herky-jerky sophomore year.

"It was probably the most frustrating thing ever," Boatright said of his inability to throw a strike to first base. "It wasn't mechanics. I knew how to throw. I think it kind of came from the pressure of trying to play as a sophomore on varsity with a new coach."

When he returned to the varsity later that season, Boatright said, "I tried to keep the same mind set as if I was on J.V., just going out and trying to have a good time and not worrying what the coaches would say to me if I made an error."

Boatright's coaches have had nothing but good things to say since.

"He's a great kid with an incredible work ethic who really loves the game," Ellis said. "He's a kid who knows what he wants to do and he goes out and is determined to do it."

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