Thursday, October 13, 2011

There's Rooting Interest in L.A. for Brewers' Homegrown Talent

Ryan Braun and Kameron Loe played for Granada Hills High.  Randy Wolf and Marco Estrada played for Woodland Hills El Camino Real and Sylmar.  Not all of them enjoyed a fast track to the big leagues.

By Eric Sondheimer
From Los Angeles Times
October 12, 2011
At a time of teacher layoffs, budget cuts and constant uncertainty in the Los Angeles Unified School District, four members of the National League Central Division champion Milwaukee Brewers are creating excitement and pride at their old City Section high schools.

And maybe providing something resembling a local rooting interest in the Major League Baseball playoffs.

Outfielder Ryan Braun and pitcher Kameron Loe played for Granada Hills High. Pitchers Randy Wolf and Marco Estrada played for Woodland Hills El Camino Real and Sylmar. Each was an All-City selection in high school, though not all of them enjoyed a fast track to the big leagues.

However they made it, their example has given current players at those schools something to strive for. "They see it can happen for them," Sylmar Coach Ray Rivera said. "It's something to be proud of."

Braun has been an All-Star the last four seasons, and with a .332 batting average, 33 home runs, 111 runs batted in and 33 stolen bases this year, he is a leading candidate for most-valuable-player honors in the National League.

But even with a busy schedule before this season started, he found time to visit Granada Hills and talk to current Highlanders players.

"It was an awesome experience," Granada Hills pitcher Nathaniel Pyle said. "He's such a great guy. His message was, 'Always listen to your coaches and work hard.' "

Former El Camino Real coach Mike Maio, 72, watches Wolf pitch on television and the memories come rushing back from 1993 and 1994, when the left-handed pitcher and hitter led the Conquistadores to consecutive City championships at Dodger Stadium.

"I didn't teach him anything about baseball, but he made everyone around him better," Maio said. "He let his work speak for itself. He's a great kid. I still get excited about him and still get a tear in my eyes when I see him."

Hal Kurtzman, an area scout who has been watching high school players in the City Section for the Arizona Diamondbacks since 1995, said he remembers Braun, Loe and Estrada.

"I always look back when kids do well and ask, 'What did you think of them?' " he said. "I liked Braun, but not enough to buy him out of Miami," where he played college ball for three years. "I remember the moon shots he hit at Blair Field in Long Beach and Granada Hills. I was not sure what he'd do defensively. Now it's 'Oh, my gosh.'

"Estrada was a little guy. He competed and threw strikes like 100 other right-handers. I remember seeing Kameron as a ninth-grader and he was this tall kid who threw 79-80 mph. He developed."

Braun graduated from Granada Hills in 2002 and became an All-American at Miami. Loe graduated from Granada Hills in 1999 and went to Cal State Northridge. Wolf was a two-time City Section player of the year and went to Pepperdine. Estrada spent three years on junior varsity at Sylmar before going 9-1 his senior year in 2001, then attending Glendale College and Long Beach State.

Granada Hills Coach Steve Thompson coached Braun and Loe.

"Honestly, I knew he could play at the next level in college," Thompson said of Braun. "What he's done is beyond expectations. He's just a tremendous athlete. Kameron has matured as a pitcher. He's figured it out."

Thompson and Braun still communicate, and the coach sent his former player a congratulatory text message this year when Braun joined baseball's exclusive 30-30 club, with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a season.

Sylmar players are following Estrada, a relief pitcher who was claimed off waivers from the Washington Nationals and soon could be pitching in the World Series. And Loe, a 20th-round draft pick from Northridge in 2002, has come back to the majors after playing in Japan in 2009.

El Camino Real retired Wolf's uniform number several years ago. He came out to the alumni game last year.

Thompson said his players are asking a trivia question: "Has there ever been a high school that produced an NFL MVP and a National League MVP?"

Granada Hills alumnus John Elway was the NFL's MVP as quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Now with Braun as a top candidate for baseball's award, Highlanders athletes are swelling with pride.

"It's great to see," Thompson said.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Bill Buckner Ball to Go Up For Auction

Bill Buckner - 1986 World Series, Game 6 - With the Red Sox an out away from their first world championship since 1918, the Mets hit three straight singles to close to 5-4. Veteran Bob Stanley was called on in relief with the tying run on third and promptly uncorked a wild pitch that tied the game. He then got Mookie Wilson to hit a slow grounder to first base, but the ball dribbled through the legs of creaky-kneed first baseman Bill Buckner, forcing a Game 7, which the Mets won, extending the Boston drought.

From ESPN Boston & Associated Press
October 4, 2011

NEW YORK -- The Bill Buckner ball is back in play.

The prize souvenir from the 1986 World Series will go on eBay this month with a $1 million price tag, put up for auction by the Grammy-nominated songwriter who once bought it from actor Charlie Sheen.

Seth Swirsky owns the ball, along with a bevy of bats, gloves and other mementos tied to the likes of Shoeless Joe Jackson, Johnny Vander Meer and Eddie Gaedel. He celebrates the game's lore and has written three books based on his letters to and from ballplayers.

"I love my collection. I don't think I've ever sold anything from it," Swirsky told The Associated Press from his home in Los Angeles. "But that ball, it's time to pass it along, to let someone else enjoy it."

Swirsky plans to begin the online auction on Oct. 15, and it won't last long. He intends to close the bidding late on the night of Oct. 25 -- at the exact minute of the 25th anniversary of Buckner's famous error.

Swirsky said he decided to part with a favorite piece while driving around last week, a day after watching Boston collapse on the final night of the regular season.

"The myth of Buckner continues. There he was on 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' last month. Everybody knows where they were when that play happened," he said. "I wasn't in a gloating mood. This isn't about, 'ha, ha, the Red Sox lost.' I'm not a Red Sox hater, I'm a baseball history lover."

"If anything, I want people to know how good Buckner was. You really wanted Billy Buck on your team. He got 2,715 hits -- almost as many as Lou Gehrig," Swirsky said.

Buckner, however, is more noted for what happened in Game 6 of the '86 Series. Playing first base for Boston, he let Mookie Wilson's grounder roll through his legs, allowing the New York Mets to cap an incredible rally in the 10th inning. The Mets went on to win the title.

The ball was picked up by right field umpire Ed Montague, who put a tiny "x" near a seam to mark the real thing. Montague gave it to Mets executive Arthur Richman, who in turn presented it to Wilson. Then Wilson signed it to Richman -- "The ball won it for us," he wrote -- and the souvenir made its way around the clubhouse. Someone left a tobacco stain where he kissed it.

Sheen bought the ball for more than $93,000 in 1992 and Swirsky purchased it for nearly $64,000 in 2000. Auction houses handled those transactions, but Swirsky said he's going online because the anniversary date is fast approaching.

To Swirsky, the Buckner ball captures the heart of the sport.

"People ask, 'Why would you have a ball about sorrow?' To me, it's encompasses the two emotions of the game. The highs and lows, all encapsulated in one ball."

Raised in Long Island, the 51-year-old Swirsky gave the ball to the Mets Hall of Fame last year for display. He's also shown it to both Wilson and Buckner at different times. Buckner thought it was "cool" and Wilson's eyes "got real big," Swirsky said.

Swirsky's extensive collection is a combination of historical and hysterical.
He's got a ticket stub from Gehrig's last game, the ball Reggie Jackson hit for his third straight home run in the 1977 World Series and a letter commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote to Shoeless Joe after the outfielder was banned in the Black Sox scandal.

Swirsky also owns the cap that Jose Canseco was wearing when a ball bounced off his head for a home run, a bottle of champagne the Red Sox had in their clubhouse in anticipation of winning the '86 Series and a rare autograph from Gaedel, the dwarf who batted in a 1951 publicity stunt.

Baseball memorabilia is only a part of Swirsky's life. He co-wrote the hit "Tell It To My Heart" by Taylor Dayne, and has multiple hits with Celine Dion, Olivia Newton-John and Al Green. Swirsky also performs with The Red Button, his Beatles-oriented retro band that recently released a new album.

Swirsky thinks $1 million is a good starting point, based on previous ball sales. Mark McGwire's 70th homer went for over $3 million and Babe Ruth's homer from the 1933 All-Star game went for $850,000, as did Hank Aaron's last home run.

Swirsky plans to donate part of the proceeds to the Baseball Assistance Team, which helps those in the baseball family having financial hardship. He previously donated from his book sales to B.A.T.

"We should share this with the people who created these memories for us," he said.

Swirsky would sell the Buckner ball to a certain person in an instant.

Outspoken political commentator Keith Olbermann -- an excellent baseball storyteller, too -- came in second to Sheen when the ball initially went to auction. Olbermann then was second to Swirsky.

"If I got a call from Keith and he wanted it for a million, I'd do it. He deserves it," Swirsky said. "I'd rather have someone who really wants it to have it, y'know?"