Bob Sharpnack is a baseball cliche come to life.
The Fountain Valley High School senior is the embodiment of baseball's bromides--hustle, desire and commitment.
And, he loves it. He loves The Game. Which is convenient, because there is something about the rangy pitcher that baseball has a crush on. The game has liked Sharpnack since he was a freshman and won all 10 games he started. Baseball has continued to dote on him, helping him to a 10-2 record and 1.67 earned-run average last season and first team All-County honors.
Now, as collegiate and professional scouts loiter near the Fountain Valley bullpen, Sharpnack remains true to his love. At a time when he ought to have chewed his hands through to his first knuckle from the pressure, he is having a ball.
"I don't let the scouts bother me," Sharpnack said. "I'm just out there having fun. I try to put everything else in the back of my mind. I feel a lot more calm out there than ever before. I'm having fun. I approach it as a game in which I have fun. I don't think of baseball as a job.
"I'm pretty easygoing and levelheaded. Besides, I think it's fun having everybody look at you. I'm striving to play well for them, too."
Because of Sharpnack's attitude, Fountain Valley Coach Tom DeKraii has revised his usual hands-off policy with scouts.
"The attention paid to Bobby this season has been incredible," DeKraii said. "We have 8 to 10 scouts at every game, standing like leeches at the fence. I receive five or six phone calls a day about Bobby. Normally, I would shelter a kid from that. But Bobby seems to be able to handle it. In fact, I think he throws better because of the pressure."
Sharpnack is throwing better. At 6-feet 3-inches and 195 pounds, Sharpnack always had a good fast ball. But this season he has a new weapon--a curve ball.
"He's always been a power thrower," said DeKraii, also the pitching coach. "We have clocked his fast ball in the upper 90s (m.p.h.). But now, his curve has improved 90%. Hitters can no longer sit back on his fast ball. Now, they have to respect two pitches.
"He throws hard, but he's never been hurt. In four years, he's never missed a start. He takes good care of his arm. He has never come up to me and said one word about a sore arm. I allow him to call his own shots as far as that is concerned. He's real durable. We're concerned about him and his arm. We know what's in store for him and his future."
The arm and the new pitch have served Sharpnack well this season. He is 3-0 and Fountain Valley is 4-1 and ranked seventh in Orange County. As further testimony to his durability, Sharpnack had 18 strikeouts in a 3-1 victory over Huntington Beach in the quarterfinals of the Loara Tournament Tuesday. He has 32 strikeouts in 14 innings work this season.
When he's not pitching, Sharpnack plays third base or is the Barons' designated hitter.
"He's our cleanup hitter," DeKraii said. "Bobby is a tremendously strong individual."
It's his strength, plus his gusto for the job that aids Sharpnack at the plate.
"I like hitting a lot. I always have" he said. "I like to work on it. I don't spend as much time on my hitting as I used to, but I try to come early to the park to practice."
Early to the park? Isn't he always there, anyway? If Sharpnack had his way, the team would sublet the dugout to him.
"His greatest attribute is that he flat out loves baseball," DeKraii said. "Baseball is what motivates him to get up every morning. He's got a ton of energy, and he's the best competitor I've ever coached. Bobby simply loves the game."
That works out well, because it appears Sharpnack will be playing for many years.
"I have always loved baseball," Sharpnack said. "I was brought up on it and grew up watching it. I had two older brothers who took me out and threw to me all the time. Plus, my dad played semi-pro ball. I want to play in the pros. That's my dad's dream for me. I want to make him happy."
Sharpnack has postponed his pros-versus-college choice until after the season at Fountain Valley. He said that while he wants an education, he would have difficulty turning down a lucrative pro offer.
"I would have liked to have settled things as early as possible to take away distractions," DeKraii said. "This is Bobby's decision. He wanted to wait. That takes a lot of confidence. Anything can happen this season. If he gets injured, people will get off his bandwagon pretty quick.
"Whatever his decision, there will be an emptiness for us on the team next year. I know I'll be looking over my shoulder, looking for him next year."