Seems odd, but the Atlanta Braves have players as connected to the Southern California sports scene as the Dodgers. Max Fried, Tyler Matzek, Freddie Freeman and Travis d'Arnaud were high school baseball standouts at Studio City Harvard-Westlake, Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley, Orange El Modena and Lakewood, respectively. They’ll have plenty of fans supporting them when they come to Dodger Stadium for the National League Championship Series.
Here are three things to know about each player‘s high school days:
Fried is the last athlete still active from now-closed Van Nuys Montclair Prep, which produced such stars at Torey Lovullo, Brad Fullmer and Toi Cook.
Fried transferred to Harvard-Westlake for his senior year in 2011 after Montclair Prep dropped its sports program and was a first-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres after being teammates with future first-round picks Lucas Giolito and Jack Flaherty.
Fried, a left-handed pitcher, grew up admiring the curveball of Dodgers Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, even though Koufax had been retired for decades. He’s been perfecting the pitch since he was 12. He even wrote a report on Koufax in elementary school.
Austin Riley’s walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning lifts the Atlanta Braves to a 3-2 victory over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS.
“I think I got an A,” Fried said in a 2010 interview.
Fried and Giolito were UCLA signees who were supposed to head the 20`11 recruiting class for UCLA coach John Savage. Instead, they quickly became major league stars.
Matzek was the best high school baseball player in Southern California in 2009 when he pitched and hit Capistrano Valley to the Southern Section Division 1 championship. In the final game at Angel Stadium, he hit a home run down the left-field line for the only run in a 1-0 victory over Huntington Beach Edison.
The left-hander also entered the game on the mound with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth, escaped the jam and closed the game with the bases loaded in the seventh, striking out the final two batters. He was already showing he can handle pressure as a relief pitcher.
Matzek didn’t give up any runs in 18 1/3 playoff innings while winning four of Capistrano Valley’s five playoff games. He’d unwind by going on five-mile runs with his 110-pound female bulldog named Denali.
Matzek threw 94 mph in high school and was drafted in the first round by the Colorado Rockies.
Freeman was a one-man wrecking crew as a senior in 2007. He hit .417 with five home runs and was 6-1 on the mound with a 1.27 ERA to help El Modena win its first league title since 1991. He was drafted in the second round by the Braves. Even though he touched 96 mph on the hill, he became a first baseman for the Braves.
Freeman, whose mother died when he was 10, credits his El Modena coach, Steve Bernard, for being a positive influence. He was a 6-foot-5 third baseman/pitcher in high school and received a $409,500 signing bonus from the Braves.
D'Arnaud came out of Lakewood in 2007, the same year that Freeman came out of El Modena. He was a catcher committed to Pepperdine but was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies and signed. He batted .413 his senior year with 52 RBIs and seven home runs for legendary coach Spud O'Neil, who has more than 900 career coaching victories.
His younger brother Chase was an infielder/outfielder at Los Alamitos High and ended up playing seven years in the majors after playing at Pepperdine.
In the seventh inning of a game Sept. 29, 2015, Travis was catching for the Mets and Chase was pinch-hitting for the Phillies.
“It was just all laughing,” Travis d’Arnaud told MLB.com about the conversation at home plate before the at-bat. “I was telling him if he got on, he better steal.”
The Dodgers and Braves will meet in the National League Championship Series for the second season in a row. Atlanta poses a considerable threat to the Dodgers.