Homegrown

Players Row (l to r): Yuhi Tamada, Dylan Kordic, Koufax Platas, Max Fernandez, Jimmy Ray Vuoso, Ralph Velasquez, Dominic Porter, Mike Brucelas, Josh Duarte, Cain Lusic, Jake Harper, Ian Renn, Chase Lukin Coaches Row (l to r): Chris Lusic, Dexter Porter, AJ Brucelas, Chad Lusic, Tim Harper

Travel ball teams, by default, involve participating in lots of tournaments sponsored by various organizations, and often require traveling some distance to do so. Most travel ball teams also boast a membership representing different cities surrounding the team’s main city of registry. In fact, some travel ball teams have members who often drive three or four hours just for practices, because their players earned a spot, and have made a commitment to be on a particular team. However, one of the very unique characteristics about the San Pedro Jr. Pirates Baseball Club is that each and every single player was born and is being raised right here in San Pedro.

“Whenever we are at tourneys, people always ask us what the ‘Homegrown’ written on our shirts means,” says Cari Burich, one of the moms with a child on the team. “They are always very impressed when we tell them that all of our boys are from the same city, which also happens to be where all of the parents are from. That’s very unusual for travel clubs.”

Unusual indeed. Even more distinctive is the fact that many of the team parents also grew up together, some even went to school and played sports together, and to this day, many of them even work together. So it is no surprise that the membership is (unofficially, but seriously) limited to twelve boys who, like their parents, call San Pedro home. For these parents, the black and gold culture that is fundamental to San Pedro has been embedded in them for years, and that very same black and gold culture is being instilled in their children today. These boys are currently ten- and eleven-years-old, fourth and fifth graders who attend local schools, and absolutely love playing baseball and hanging out together.

“Sometimes after an all day Saturday practice, we don’t even go home,” says Dylan Kordich, 10, who plays catcher and pitcher, and is a fourth grader at Holy Trinity School. “We are very close and we hang out all the time. They’re my best friends and we spend a lot of time together.”

With your help, these homegrown boys will be spending even more time together this summer in their quest to put San Pedro and those nostalgic black and gold colors on the baseball map at the national level.

This July, for the very first time, a San Pedro team will compete in the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Elite World Series in Orlando, Fla. USSSA is the highest governing body in charge of youth baseball and the Elite 32 (as the national tourney is known) is considered the proverbial promised land of baseball. The team has already qualified for one of only 32 highly coveted spots in this intensely competitive tournament. Now all they have to do is get there.

“Our team qualified for Nationals in November,” says head coach Chris Lusic. “We won a huge Thanksgiving tourney against ten of the best teams in Southern California, and since then, we’ve been working very hard to raise funds to get there. We have a long way to go and we’re asking for everyone’s help.”

The boys have enjoyed an incredible season with more than 15 solid wins in less than 18 months, traveling as far south as San Diego and playing as many as 10 games in one weekend. All the while, the parents have hosted and sponsored dozens of fundraisers like poker tournaments and taco nights to help offset the many costs related to travel ball. Both feats are huge accomplishments for a travel club at this age level.

“We have a great group of kids,” says Lusic. “They are very coachable and they work hard, they listen, and they come from really good families. The parents are just as terrific and they work just as hard as the boys do making sure we raise enough money to get the boys to Orlando. This is a very special team and we are honored at the opportunity to represent this city we all love so much, and are so proud of, at Nationals in July.”

Lusic, whose nephew plays on the team, is a San Pedro High School graduate who played baseball there and at L.A. Mission College as well as Cal State Dominguez Hills. This is his fourth season coaching the team, which he helped establish, and even though they have won many tourneys, they’ve never made it this far.

“I hope we can set them all up and prepare them to play at the next level. They’re good Pedro boys and we all want them to grow up to be good Pedro men.” Lusic and his four assistant coaches hold practices twice a week at Bloch Field and enter the team in at least two tourneys a month. Their goal is to give the boys as much game experience as possible so they can be ready for Nationals.

“I am excited about going to Florida because that is one step closer to my dream, to all of our dreams, of playing baseball in the professional league,” says 10-year-old Dominic Porter, a fourth grader at South Shores Elementary School and the team’s center fielder. “It’s cool that we get to show our talent in a really big tournament across the country because people will see what Pedro is all about. We work hard and we play hard and we have fun doing it.” spt

San Pedro Jr. Pirates upcoming fundraisers include a pancake breakfast on Sunday, June 2, and a Poker Night on Saturday, June 15. Corporate sponsorships and individual donations are greatly appreciated.

For more information about these and other events, or to make a contribution to this homegrown cause, visit the San Pedro Jr. Pirates Baseball Club Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SanPedroJrPiratesBaseballClub), or their website at www.leaguelineup.com/sanpedrojrpirates.

Dillon Field: A Tribute Representative Of San Pedro

The sign-ups are over, the draft is done and the first practice is behind us. Baseball season is here. It is the time of the year when hundreds of kids prepare to play the national pastime. Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, the game itself is a reminder of simpler times and brings back many childhood memories. My favorite team is the Los Angeles Dodgers and as a kid I would spend just about every night listening to Vin Scully on the radio or while watching the games on channel 11. My most vivid memories were agonizing over the Dodgers losing to the New York Yankees in the 1977 and ’78 World Series. My cousin was a Yankee fan and having to face him each day during the series in back-to-back seasons was tough. After all, bragging rights when you’re twelve was a big deal. It wasn’t until 1981 when the Dodgers would face the Yankees again and finally win the World Series in six games. It’s been a long stretch since 1988, since the last time the Dodgers won the World Series, but then again there is always this year.

This month brought back many childhood memories when I attended the dedication and tribute of Bobby Dillon. I had just finished our first practice with my Eastview Little League AAA Dodgers and headed over for the tribute with my 10-year-old son Luca proudly wearing his Dodger uniform. I had never met the Dillon family, but was aware that Dillon Field existed in San Pedro. About 100 family and friends attended the tribute, which took place at the corner of 22nd Street Park facing Miner Street, the site of the old field, which today is the parking lot of the old warehouses being used by Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles.

This beautiful Saturday afternoon was about the memory and tribute to the man that founded the Cabrillo Bay League. In 1962, Bobby passed away suddenly from a heart attack when he was 42. His son Bobby Jr. was 10. I couldn’t help but think about the similarities in age that Luca and I had with Bobby and Bobby Jr., which put the this special day into perspective.

As any great baseball day, the weather was perfect and the stories of hard fought games between the Sharks and the Squids, as well as coaches getting a bit animated after a tough game, were told leaving the crowd both laughing and in tears. Pete Moore, who is 93 years young and helped coach the Squids with Bobby, was present as well.

The most touching was hearing from Bobby Dillon Jr. and his sister Sylvia Valdez who gave a touching speech about her father and the way it use to be. One thing she said that hit home was that a play date back in the ’60s was kids going out to play all day with fellow neighborhood kids and how Sundays were meant for visiting family and friends. As the ceremony wound down I was able to meet and talk with Bobby Jr. He left an impression on me that I believe was a reflection of his father, kind and true. The port did a great thing honoring a guy whose goal was to teach kids how to field a ground ball, catch a fly ball, and get a hit all for the love of the game and his community.

Many realities of San Pedro were reflected in the hour tribute, which I have always known, but was solidified once again on this day. Our town is tied together by sports. We have always been a town of pride with a competitive edge. This is most prevalent when our local teams travel because San Pedro always has the most fans on its side of the field. Our sense of pride is unparalleled when it comes to local sports. The very nature of the word itself embodies all that we are: SP for San Pedro and PORTS, which is our community’s lifeblood. Put the two together and the word sports embodies the live, work and play hard attitude that is San Pedro. spt

New Baseball Coach Wants No Player Left Behind

Good morning, students. Welcome to “Introduction to San Pedro High Baseball 101.”

As most of you know by now, we have a new coach, Lefty Olguin, although calling Lefty “new” is silly because he’s been a part of San Pedro sports for much of his life. The entire Olguin clan, in fact, has been an integral part of San Pedro’s history for most of the past century; our other campus is named after Lefty’s uncle and aunt, John and Muriel.

Please note that Lefty – no one calls him Albert – is not a lefthander. He’s had his nickname since he was a baby and it has nothing to do with his limbs. It seems one day both of his parents ran to answer a phone and realized they had “left” the baby alone for just a minute. As will happen, the kids in the neighborhood picked up on the story, and he’s been Lefty ever since.

Which caused no little confusion for major league scout Carl Hubbell, the Hall of Fame pitcher, who came to watch Lefty when he was starring for the Pirates and was surprised to find out he was checking out a right-hander.

You’ll also note that Lefty is slightly older than the typical beginning high school coach. All right, a lot older. Old enough to be retired as the athletic director of Compton College as of Jan. 31. Lefty is used to being the “old man,” however. He graduated from Pedro in Summer `69 but had suffered a serious injury and didn’t return to playing until 1976, when Jim O’Brien made him his first recruit at Harbor College. That’s when he reunited for the first time with Bobby Ramirez, his former San Pedro High teammate and the man he’s placing as coach at SPHS. Ramirez was an assistant coach (along with Pedro legend Andy Lopez) under O’Brien that year when, with Lefty back on the mound, the Seahawks finished runner-up in the state tournament.

Lefty, having graduated from Biola, returned to Harbor in 1978 as an assistant on O’Brien’s first state championship team. One of the players on that team was Matt Stanovich, who was an assistant at Pedro under Ramirez and will remain, joined by his brother, Dave, and holdovers Ray Mendoza and Jamie Davenport. John Car, another former Pirate, takes over the pitching coach duties from Tim Ursich, who is now helping out Ramirez at his new school, Pioneer in Whittier. Car was pitching coach at Mary Star last year. We’ll explore all of these relationships next semester in “San Pedro Baseball: We Are Family.”

Lefty will be doing a lot more than coaching this year, however. He’s also just launched Future College Stars, a pet project of his that he hopes will have a lasting impact on the lives of young athletes beyond the playing field.

“The goal of the program is to academically track and support baseball in high school,” Lefty says. As a former player and coach, Lefty knows how to get the best out of his athletes on the field. As an administrator, he wants to get the best out of them off the field, in the classroom. “The whole premise is to help support the high school athlete not just for eligibility but help to get them into college.”

Lefty is hoping the foundation can raise the funds needed for people such as an academic coordinator, tutors and workshop leaders. He wants to see local college coaches speak to the students, lead clinics and promote their programs. He also wants to make sure the players have places to play year-round, with perhaps a collegiate league or instructional league. For starters, he’ll be working with San Pedro High, Mary Star and Pioneer, but hopes to expand in the summer.

“We want to put college in front of the kids instead of professional baseball,” Lefty says. “We want a consistent effort to help guarantee they get into college or a two-year program. By the time they’re getting ready to leave junior high, they’ll know what they need to do (academically). We want to try to get kids focused on college.”

Lefty is drawing on his experience of growing up in Pedro in the `50s and `60s and `70s, when he played with the likes of Garry Maddox, Alan Ashby, Joe Lovitto and the Lusic brothers. “We have a great tradition at San Pedro High of getting kids drafted,” he notes, “but there’s only a handful of them who went to college.

“Nothing wrong with signing out of high school, don’t get me wrong,” Lefty says, but he also knows a lot of great players whose professional aspirations didn’t pan out, and without a college education, their options were limited.

For more information, check out www.futurecollegestars.org. Leave it to Lefty to get it right.

The Long and Winding Road

Eight years later, and Ponte Vista is finally down to a reasonable 830 homes.

Like many, I remain opposed to changing the zoning from single-family R-1, but iStar apparently has seen the light. Testing the political wind, the new developers aren’t even going to fight for more housing, obviously hoping that the modest 830 figure will quiet most of their critics.

Of course, the devil is in the details, but at least there is now room for calm discussion on hot-button issues such as traffic mediation, which always has been my main concern, and senior units.

It looks like those goats may have to look for new grazing land soon. spt

For Love Of The Game

Shelley Smith, photographed at San Pedro High School (photo by John Mattera)

It’s November, the heart of college football season, and for Shelley Smith, that means no rest, several flights in-and-out of LAX and every Saturday spent at a different football stadium across the country.

But it’s not just college football that keeps Smith from curling up on the couch to the latest blockbuster hit, it’s also Thursday night NFL games, pre-season NBA games, the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal and the continued lockout talks of the NHL strike.

It’s these precise reasons though, that get Smith out of bed each and every morning, well these and her daily trips to the local San Pedro gym, Hey Day Fitness, where she can talk sports without the pressure of a camera in her face.

Smith loves her job, and she loves it because “no single day is the same.”

Smith joined ESPN in 1997 and quickly became one of the leading ladies in sports journalism. She has climbed the ranks and has had great success in doing so, including four Sports Emmys, one of which she received in 1997 for her segment on Magic Johnson as part of an ESPN production on AIDS and Athletes.

But she didn’t start at the top. For Smith, having an interest and passion for journalism started at a young age. But back then, it was an interest in breaking news and features, she hadn’t even considered a career in sports.

A Denver native, Smith attended the University of Nebraska, where she majored in journalism and political science. During her time at Nebraska, Smith wrote for the college newspaper and through this came an opportunity for lunch with an alumnus, who happened to be the sports editor at a major newspaper in Denver.

“In college I thought I wanted to go into news or features reporting,” she says. “That all changed when the editor called me and offered me a gig in the sports department.”

Smith shooting a story on the “most dangerous golf hole in the world” along the DMZ in South Korea for ESPN in 2009. Smith originally covered the golf course in 1988 for her very first Sports Illustrated story. (photo by Dylann Tharp)

The editor took notice in Smith, and she never looked back. Now a sideline reporter for ESPN, Smith is an award-winning journalist and author of three books, with a fourth — Al: The unauthorized biography of Raiders owner Al Davis – on its way. But she says it’s been a constant challenge, and she has always set out to outwork and out prepare her peers.

“You make your own luck in this field by working hard,” says Smith. “If you are well prepared and work harder than anyone else you can make up for what you lack in talent. It is really about taking the extra time and getting it right, but don’t get me wrong, I have been lucky to be in the right place at the right time a couple times.”

Case in point, the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Smith was in Seoul covering the Olympics for Sports Illustrated when word broke that Canadian Ben Johnson would be stripped of his gold medal after testing positive for steroids. Upon hearing the news, Smith, along with a photographer, raced to the airport, where Johnson would soon be boarding for a flight to New York – Smith got on that flight, sat with Johnson for 45 minutes and conducted the first one-on-one interview, an exclusive.

“When I got on that plane I knew it would be my big break,” she recalls. And it was.

The Ben Johnson exclusive is arguably Smith’s biggest story ever – and she says she will never forget the rush of it all.

“I knew it would be the biggest story I would ever cover,” she says. “It was the middle of the night, a double-decker plane, and I knew I was sitting on something huge. It was the greatest feeling in the world to get off the plane with hoards of reporters waiting for Johnson’s arrival and walk past them knowing I already had the story.”

This was just the start for Smith, who was offered a position with Sports Illustrated in 1989, and six months later was asked to make a move to the West Coast from New York.

“When I was in college, we print journalists thought broadcast journalists should be in the drama department,” she says. “We thought we were the only serious journalists – so when I accepted the position at Sports Illustrated in 1989, I had reached my destination, I was a writer and that’s what I wanted.”

Upon arriving in California, she made her home in San Pedro.

“I loved San Pedro,” she says. “The air was clean, it was a affordable and it didn’t seem like big, splashy Los Angeles.” Smith’s daughter, Dylann Tharp, was three at the time, and she wanted her to grow up in a good community.

“It was important, with all the traveling I do, to have a place to come home to,” she says. “A place to exhale – I have stayed in San Pedro ever since.”

Tharp, now 26, was a fixture on working road trips. Smith remembers various all-star games where Tharp would sit on the floor next to her and play with Barbies while Smith covered the game – so much so, that Tharp began to interact with the players and would later track them down for her Mom.

“I took Dylann with me a lot,” says Smith. “She grew up with Charles Barkley essentially – they are still good buds. She was with me on the NBA or NCAA tournament trail and also went with me to all the bowl games.”

“There is a photo above my fireplace where Barkley is holding her at the Minnesota All-Star Game, after chastising me for using my kid to do all my work, my producer said, ‘Does she know Shaq?’”

Tharp, after graduating from San Pedro High School, captained the University of Oregon soccer team and in 2007 was named to the Pac-10 second team. She majored in art and communications at Oregon, and is now living and working in Los Angeles.

Since Smith joined ESPN in 1997, she has recorded hundreds of articles and reports on topics ranging from the Olympics to the O.J. Simpson trial. She has covered Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, the BCS national championship game, the NHL Stanley Cup, golf and tennis championships, ski racing, weightlifting, boxing and motor sports.

“I’ve always wanted to write stories,” she says. “Making the transition to ESPN was difficult, it was a lot of training – hair training, make-up training, where to stand training, voice training — but I love it, I love being a sideline reporter. I love my job, and I love even more that everyday presents a different challenge — no day is the same.”

In addition, she is the co-founder of the Magic Johnson Foundation newsletter, serves on various committees for The Boys & Girls Club of San Pedro and is a volunteer writer for many charity organizations, including the Serra Project, which provides homes for AIDS victims.

Smith plans on walking the sidelines for sometime. She loves that her weeks can range from USC football, to Lakers basketball, to baseball and the NFL.

“I am writing a book on Al Davis, which is the hardest thing I have ever done,” she says. “But I have also found a new passion for jumping on stories. I love my job, I love it all. Everyday is different, the sports world is always changing, and something is always happening.” spt