Baseball BeatFebruary 13, 2005
Saturday in the Park
By Rich Lederer

...People dancing, people laughing
A man selling ice cream...

--Chicago, Chicago V (1972)

I went to the USC-Long Beach State game at Blair Field on Saturday afternoon. I graduated from USC but was born and raised and still live in Long Beach. Therefore, when the Trojans and 49ers get together, I figure I can't lose. Well, now that I think about it, I guess I win and lose. Oh well, I'll take being .500. Or to put it another way, let's just say I go to these games to have fun.

Did I have fun yesterday? Let me count the ways:

1. The nearly 2,000 fans in attendance were privileged to watch two of the best college pitchers -- USC's Ian Kennedy and Long Beach's Cesar Ramos -- go head-to-head. Kennedy and Ramos played for Team USA last summer and were preseason All-America selections.

Saturday was my second opportunity to watch Kennedy in person. I was there last February when he made his college debut against the Dirtbags in the same ballpark. Kennedy had the ill-timed task of taking on the number one pitcher in the country last year -- a fellow by the name of Jered Weaver. The freshman acquitted himself well in that game, allowing only two hits and one run in five innings while striking out eight and walking three. He just couldn't match Weaver, who struck out the first ten Trojans he faced (including four in the third inning) and 14 overall in a seven-inning, two-hit, one-walk, one-run performance.

Kennedy's fastball sits in the low-90s, while Ramos works in the upper-80s. I like the young righthander's mechanics and how he hides the ball. His physique reminds me of Tim Hudson and Roy Oswalt, and he mimics Mike Mussina when he pitches out of the stretch. Only a sophomore, Kennedy seems like a good bet to be among the top players chosen in the 2006 draft.

There were two other players in uniform -- Jeff Clement and Troy Tulowitzki -- who also played for Team USA. Unfortunately, Tulowitzki missed his second consecutive game with an injury to his left hand and may be out of action until the league conference begins on April 1. The Trojan catcher and Dirtbag shortstop have been projected by Baseball America as first-round draft picks in the June 2005 draft.

The left-hand hitting Clement struck out twice against the southpaw who was his batterymate last summer. He is listed at 6'1", 210 pounds but looks stockier than that. Jeff has a slightly open stance and takes a wicked hack at pitches he likes. Clement has supposedly improved his defense but colleague Bryan Smith is concerned that the all-time high school home run king may be nothing more than former Trojan catcher and current Minnesota Twins third baseman Eric Munson reincarnated.

2. I sat in the stands behind home plate with my older brother. Sitting and talking to your brother at the ballpark is a pretty good way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Tom graduated from Long Beach State and wore his black baseball cap with the interlocking white "LB" logo. He is a quiet and unassuming type. Heck, nobody would know just how good Tom was in high school if it was left up to him. But, hey, it's my blog and I'm the one in control of the keyboard so let me be the one to brag on his behalf.

Just how good was Tom? Well, he was a first-team all-CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) pitcher in 1970. Fred Lynn (El Monte High School) was on the second team. Tom had a record of 10-0 with an ERA of 1.53. He pitched for Lakewood High School and was the winning pitcher in the CIF Championship game at Anaheim Stadium. I will never forget the final out of that game. Tom spun around and picked off the tying run at second base in a timing play with his second baseman, Kim Hannaford, who went on to play at Stanford University. Four years earlier, Tom and Kim were two of the star players on the Lakewood Pony League All-Star team that went to the World Series in Ralston, Nebraska.

Tom pitched for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots in the summer following his high school graduation. He was the youngest player on a team that featured the 1976 National League Cy Young Award winner Randy Jones (Chapman University), the 1978 N.L. ERA leader Craig Swan (Arizona State University), and future major leaguers Jim Crawford (Arizona State) and Bruce Bochte (Santa Clara University), as well as current Long Beach State coach Mike Weathers (Chapman), who played as high as "AAA" for the Oakland A's. Tom even led the team in hitting with a .500 batting average (OK, he was 1-for-2).

3. I also sat next to Joe Reed, who played baseball at Long Beach State in 1955 and went on to become a high school, college, and minor league umpire. Joe was the best umpire in the greater Long Beach area during the 1960s-1980s. I remember Joe working games when I played in junior high, high school, American Legion, and later on as an adult playing fast-pitch softball. Joe is a retired stockbroker who now works as an observer for the Pac-10.

4. We sat in front of Tom Patterson, a local attorney who knows more about the rich history of Long Beach baseball than anyone I know. He has at least one baseball card of virtually every minor or major league baseball player to come out of Long Beach, going back to the turn of the last century.

5. Rob McMillin and his wife, Helen, sat two rows behind us at the opposite end of the same aisle. They were each wearing their black Long Beach State hats as well. Rob and Helen stopped by to say hello during the game, and we spoke for more than a half-hour afterwards. I met them for the first time last July when Jon Weisman invited us to a Dodgers game. Rob and I also hooked up at the Winter Meetings in December. Although there weren't any 6-4-2 double plays, there was a 7-4-5 DP in the top half of the fifth for guys like Rob and me to note on our scorecards.

Rob and Helen are alumni -- or should I say alumni and alumnae? -- of Cal State Long Beach (that's how the university is known outside the sports world). They met on Thanksgiving Day in 1988. Helen, on her way to visit family friends in Phoenix, changed her mind after spending an hour or so not moving on the 91 freeway and decided to take Rob's Mom (whom she knew because both were taking classes at CSULB) up on an offer to join the McMillins for Thanksgiving dinner. And, as they say, the rest is history. Ahh, the romance of bumper-to-bumper traffic in Southern California.

Oh, did I mention that USC won the game, 4-3? (USC recap. Long Beach State story. Box Score. Play-by-Play.) Sorry, the outcome didn't matter all that much to me.

Can you dig it, yes I can
And I've been waiting such a long time
For Saturday