Column: Roosevelt High baseball team takes aim at return to Dodger Stadium

The Roosevelt duo of pitcher Lino Zepeda (left) and catcher Matias Nolasco.
The Roosevelt duo of pitcher Lino Zepeda, left, and catcher Matias Nolasco will be in the spotlight as their team competes in the City Section playoffs, which begin on Tuesday.
(Roosevelt High)

When Lino Zepeda makes the 10-minute walk from his family home in Boyle Heights carrying his backpack filled with books and baseball bag filled with equipment, it’s like a peek back in time to when everyone lived close enough and felt safe enough to walk to their neighborhood school.

There are few communities in Los Angeles more loyal, proud and family oriented than Boyle Heights, home to Roosevelt High.

Zepeda is the star 6-foot-2 senior pitcher hoping to lead Roosevelt to the only place nearby that is worshipped more than the high school — Dodger Stadium.

Roosevelt hasn’t played in a City final since 2001, the year the Rough Riders lost to Chatsworth in a memorable 2-1 game that ended on a controversial called third strike on a 3-and-2 pitch with the tying and winning runs on base. The player who struck out, Francisco Figueroa, is now an assistant coach for Roosevelt.


Zepeda and standout junior catcher Matias Nolasco have been waiting for the City‘s Open Division playoffs to begin. They will be in the spotlight on Tuesday when No. 5-seeded Roosevelt hosts No. 7 Reseda Cleveland, with the winner advancing to face Palisades on Friday in the quarterfinals.

“I feel we have heart. We have a great bond,” Zepeda said.

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Roosevelt has played three of the four top seeds and lost in close games to No. 1 Granada Hills 1-0, No. 3 Woodland Hills El Camino Real 3-2 and No. 4 Palisades 2-0. The Rough Riders need to believe in themselves. That’s where Zepeda and Nolasco come in — they are leaders and talented players.

Zepeda has been a straight-A student since middle school. His older brother pitched for the 2018 Roosevelt team. His father went to Roosevelt. He has aunts and uncles who went to Roosevelt. He knows you’re not just playing for Roosevelt — you’re playing for Boyle Heights with teammates who grew up down the block.

Zepeda is much improved as a pitcher, throwing more strikes with better velocity. He spent the offseason working on long toss and hitting the weight room. He has a 6-3 record with a 1.75 ERA.

Standing next to the 5-foot-5 Nolasco, he looks like a giant. Don’t underestimate Nolasco, who has deceiving pop in his bat and has hit four home runs with a .375 batting average.

“He’s a great hitter, man,” Zepeda said. “So knowledgeable about baseball and brings so much to the team. He has power.”


Nolasco seems to live in the weight room, which makes him strong with the bat, arm and glove.

“He’s a baseball rat,” coach Ray Ruiz said. “He loves to constantly come out and practice, constantly tries to get better. He understands the game. It’s like having a coach on the field.”

Pitcher and catcher are two of the most important positions for a team to win a championship in high school baseball. Roosevelt is set there. Now it’s about getting others to raise their level of play while trying to secure a spot in the City final on May 28 at Dodger Stadium.

“Everybody is obsessed with the Dodgers,” Nolasco said. “It would be an unbelievable feeling, and if I’m being honest, I feel we have the team for it.”

Just don’t expect to see the diminutive Nolasco taking on Zepeda in a game of one-on-one in Roosevelt’s gym.

“Lino is tall,” Nolasco said. “He’d dunk on me and it would feel like LeBron James is playing Kevin Hart.”