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College Notebook : A Baseball Tale With the Twist of an Oliver

May 16, 1985|MIKE HISERMAN

They called Oliver Nichols a natural, drafted him on the first round and said he just might be another Dwight Gooden.

That's all. No pressure. Just put a saddle on that fastball and we'll see you in the major leagues in a couple years.

That's quite a bit of pressure to put on a 19-year-old. Especially a 19-year-old who has never pitched in a high school or a college game.

Fortunately, Nichols was blessed with a great equalizer--talent, raw talent.

The Milwaukee Brewers didn't care how many games Nichols had pitched in. They were more interested in a couple of other statistics.

Size: 6-3, 190 pounds.

Best pitch: 90-m.p.h. fastball.

That's why the Brewers made Nichols the second choice in January's major league free agent draft.

Following the draft, all that was left for Nichols to do was blow down a few hundred batters for Oxnard College during the spring.

It would have been the perfect fairy-tale ending: youngster raised with 12 brothers and sisters in a broken-down Oxnard housing project is discovered by professional baseball scout, signs for large bonus and goes on to fame and fortune in the major leagues.

But it took only a few weeks for reality to come crashing back down on Nichols.

The Western State Conference regular season ended last week and, as expected, Oxnard College won the WSC championship. The Condors went 15-3 in conference and are 22-9 overall entering state playoff action next week.

The major reason for the team's success? That's right: pitching. During the conference season, Oxnard pitchers allowed only 108 hits in 158 innings, while striking out 120 and walking only 75. The team's earned-run average was an impressive 2.27. In individual statistics, Condor pitchers were four of the conference's top six.

But here's the catch. Nichols wasn't one of the them. In fact, his name does not appear in the WSC statistics. He pitched in only four games all season.

Oxnard Coach Jerry White said there is nothing physically wrong with Nichols. The problem, it seems, is that Oxnard simply has a few other pitchers who are better.

"Oliver needs the experience, but we've had other people who have been doing a better job," White said. "It comes down to a question of one guy suffering, or 24 guys suffering."

And White said Nichols is suffering. "He gets discouraged, which is natural considering the circumstances. He had great expectations, as we all did. All things considered, he's holding up pretty well."

Nichols' lack of work can be linked to the disappearance of his blazing fastball.

Dodger scout Bob Bishop said that Nichols hasn't been clocked at better than 85 m.p.h. since the draft.

"He doesn't seem to want to turn the ball loose," White said. "Really, he's inconsistent with just about everything. He can have a fair to very good to poor fastball in the same inning. His problem is not any one part of the game; it's a little bit of everything. At some points, all phases of his game are strong. At other times, all those phases are very poor."

What Nichols needs, White said, is more experience. The drawback is, of course, that you don't get the experience unless you're throwing well enough to pitch in games.

"The scouts say he needs to throw more, and I agree with them," White said. "The person keeping him from throwing is me. But what am I going to do? It's like applying for a job. You can't get the job without experience, and you can't get experience without the job."

Add Oxnard: Three of the four pitchers who have successfully kept Nichols out of work are from Valley-area high schools.

John Reilley, a sophomore from Westlake High, was 5-0 in conference with a 1.77 ERA. In seven appearances he gave up a total of seven earned runs.

Scott Evans, a sophomore from Thousand Oaks, was also unbeaten in league. He had a 4-0 record and a 2.08 ERA.

Cheeky Palomarez, a sophomore from Simi Valley, is the team's top reliever. He finished the season with one win, seven saves and a conference-leading 1.50 ERA.

The California Assn. of Community Colleges tentatively has adopted a new alignment for conferences starting in 1986.

Under the proposed lineup, L.A. Valley and Glendale colleges will be part of a yet-to-be-named 18-team conference consisting primarily of current Mountain Valley and Inland Valley conference teams.

College of the Canyons, Moorpark and Pierce would be grouped in a 10-team conference along with Allan Hancock, Bakersfield, Cuesta, Oxnard, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and Ventura.

Cal State Northridge will send 11 men and five women to the national Division II Track and Field Championships next week at Cal State Los Angeles.

Leading the list are decathletes Dion Giuliano and Jon Wotawa, who finished first and second, respectively, at the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. championships last week.

Nine of the 11 members of the men's team qualified in the field events.

The CSUN team figures to be one of the top five finishers. In seven years, Coach Bill Webb has never had a team finish lower than eighth.

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