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PLAYING

Jeff Tully

Jason Hirsh has been able to fit in comfortably and excel as a

pitcher at St. Francis High, and more recently, in college at

California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

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But when it comes to the place the hard-throwing pitcher will

always call home, that can be found on the grassy fields and

red-brick surfaces of Burbank’s Olive Park.

“I’ve left a lot of blood, sweat and tears on those fields at

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Olive Park,” said the 21-year-old Hirsh, a Burbank resident.

“I learned a lot of baseball and spent so many hours playing

there. It will always be a special place for me.”

With his recent success, Hirsh might yearn for the friendly

confines of Olive Park when he’s pitching in parks with a little more

prominence -- Minute Maid, Pacific Bell, PNC and Comerica.

Hirsh took a huge step toward realizing his dream of playing

professional baseball Tuesday when he was selected in the second

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round as the 59th overall pick by the Houston Astros in the 2003

Major League Baseball first-year player draft.

“It’s just an honor to be selected, but to be picked so high is

just amazing,” said the 6-foot-8, 250-pound junior.

“We were siting around listing to the draft and I thought it would

be a while before they called my name. But when we heard them call

‘Jason Hirsh,’ we just waited to make sure we actually heard right.

“It still hasn’t really sunk in yet. I am just enjoying everything

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right now.”

Although he was surprised at how high he was drafted, Hirsh -- a

product of Toluca Little League -- is used to getting his share of

attention from major league teams this season.

The scouts came out in droves to see Hirsh play, and were no doubt

impressed by his fastball that has been clocked as high as 97 mph.

He also put together a fine season, compiling a 9-1 record and a

3.68 earned-run average with 126 strikeouts and just 22 walks in 100

1/3 innings for a Kingsmen team that went 27-13 (17-4 in the Southern

California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference).

Hirsh broke a Cal Lutheran school record in April when he struck

out 18 batters in a conference win against Occidental College.

For his efforts, Hirsh was named to the American Baseball Coaches

Assn. All--West Region Team and was an All-SCIAC first-team choice.

“Jason is a pitcher we can always count on to go out there and

give us his best effort,” Cal Lutheran Coach Marty Slimak said.

“He throws hard and has continued to improve since he came on

board as a freshman.”

Hirsh got one of the biggest thrills of his baseball life a few

weeks ago when he was invited to a workout by the New York Yankees --

a team that had shown a great deal of interest in the right-hander.

The Yankees flew Hirsh to New York and brought him to Yankee

Stadium to see what he could do.

“Just being in Yankee Stadium was unbelievable,” Hirsh said.

“We arrived early and we were just like little kids, walking

around the stadium and looking at all the monuments and stuff.

“They had me throw in front of the Yankees brass. I started out

pitching in the bullpen, but then they moved me to the actual mound

on the field and I was able to throw against some of their upcoming

prospects. That was so great.”

*

During his high school and college career, Hirsh said he’s had the

advantage of working with some outstanding coaches and individuals

who have helped mold his baseball skills.

However, when it comes to the most influential person in the

pitcher’s career, Hirsh said there is one individual who has been

paramount in assisting him.

“Mike Boyd has meant everything to me,” he said. “I really think

they should rename Olive Park ‘Mike Boyd Park’ because no one spends

as much time at the park helping young players as he does. I worked

many hours at the park with Mike.

“I owe him so much. Not only for what he’s taught me about

baseball, but what he’s taught me about life and how to be a better

person. He’s just a great individual.”

The brother of former Boston Red Sox pitcher Dennis “Oil Can”

Boyd, to pigeonhole Mike Boyd as just a personal baseball trainer is

a disservice to a man who is much more to the individuals he works

with.

Boyd -- whose home base is Olive Park -- is a combination of

baseball instructor, confidante, motivator and promoter to his

pupils. Along with physical skills, Boyd helps players build their

self-esteem, self-worth and confidence.

Once a second-round draft choice by the L.A. Dodgers, Boyd said he

is ecstatic about Hirsh’s selection.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” Boyd said. “It is the kind of pride a

mother has for her child. His success is also great for the city.

Here is a kid from Burbank who is making it to the big time and

representing the city.”

Boyd, who has worked with Jason and his younger brother, Matt,

since they were 7, said Jason is a dedicated individual who continues

to improve his skills.

“This is a young man who has worked very hard to get where he’s at

today,” he said. “It’s no mistake that he was picked that high in the

draft. Jason deserves all that has come his way, and even more. And

you can bet that he is going to go as far as he wants to in this game

of baseball.

“One of the reasons why Jason has gotten as far as he has is

because he has a great family that gives him so much support.”

Hirsh’s work ethic has also impressed Slimak, who had three of his

players selected in this year’s draft.

“Jason is the hardest worker we’ve ever had here,” Slimak said.

“He has an unbelievable work ethic and you don’t have to tell him to

do anything like run, he does it on his own.

“During the summer, Jason and the other two players who got

drafted really dedicated themselves to getting better and improving.

Instead of leaving for the summer, these guys stuck around, and for

10 weeks, were getting up at 6:30 in the morning to work out. Jason

is very dedicated.”

Boyd has been able to pass on skills and information to Hirsh

handed down to him through an impressive baseball lineage. One of 14

children, Mike’s father was Willie James Boyd, an accomplished Negro

League player.

Mike Boyd has developed a personal training method that has helped

players excel in baseball. The technique -- Step, Hip, Hands --

consists of seven basic steps that allow an athlete to hit and throw

correctly in order to maximize his or her skills.

“What I have learned are some of the things that have been handed

down to me and come from great players like Satchel Paige, Ty Cobb

and Babe Ruth,” Boyd said.

Although baseball is important in his life, Hirsh also takes pride

in his education. Majoring in multimedia, he said he would like to

finish at least one of the two remaining semesters he has left to

gain his bachelor’s degree before reporting to the Astros.

But even if Jason doesn’t play his senior season at Cal Lutheran,

brother Matt could be the next Hirsh sensation.

“Matt may not be as fast at Jason, be he’s got more pitches,”

Slimak said of the 6-5, 240-pound freshman right-hander, another St.

Francis graduate. “He is going to be a good one.”

Added Boyd: “Matt is going to be better than Jason,” he said. “He

just can’t be beat.”

If you want to catch a glimpse of a potential future star, you can

find Matt working out on a regular basis with Boyd at -- where else

-- Olive Park.


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