Joey Shoen and Jon Egertson can't seem to break their ties with the Stillwell family. They know a good thing when they see it.
When Shoen hit .450 and Egertson hit .507 at Thousand Oaks High three years ago, they would stay after practice and take extra hitting with shortstop Kurt Stillwell, who now is on the 40-man roster of the Cincinnati Reds.
Now the two Moorpark College baseball players have put their careers in the hands of Ron Stillwell, Kurt's father and the coach at Moorpark. Stillwell believes Shoen and Egertson will make a strong impact on Moorpark's program.
"Jon has an outstanding throwing arm and has a knack for getting on base," he said. "Shoen may be only 5-7, but he swings the bat like a big person."
Barring a rainout, the pair will be in action today when Moorpark plays at home against Oxnard at 1 p.m.
When Stillwell watched them play alongside his son three years ago, he had no idea that one day he would be their coach. And the story of their reunion has the twists of an Agatha Christie novel.
Last year, Shoen was at Cal State Northridge and Egertson at Cal Lutheran. Both were unhappy at the four-year schools.
"I thought Cal Lutheran would have a decent program, but it wasn't what I expected," Egertson said. "I might have stayed if they had a more competitive schedule. We'd play little Bible schools and beat them, 20-0."
Shoen played outfield as a freshman at CSUN, but wanted a chance to play second base last year. Northridge Coach Terry Craven wouldn't approve the move, however. Shoen was injured early in the season. He was able to redshirt, but decided against returning to the Matadors.
"Last year, we had four other guys who could play second base," Craven said. "His best role for the team was as an outfielder. I planned to give him a chance this year because I have only one other second baseman.
"When he told me he was leaving, I told him, 'I don't know where you're going to find less competition.' "
Shoen and Egertson took a step down in moving from Division II and NAIA schools to junior college, but it's a choice they made after careful consideration.
Egertson has found the caliber of play higher than what he experienced at Cal Lutheran, but Shoen misses CSUN's competitive schedule.
Shoen said that pitching makes the greatest difference between Division II and junior college. Despite hitting .330 with four home runs in his freshman year at CSUN, Shoen usually batted sixth or seventh. He bats third for Moorpark.
"When I get out in JC, I feel like I got myself out," Shoen said. "At Northridge, I'd get out because the pitcher made a good pitch and I couldn't handle it. JC is a lot like high school."
He also said there is a difference in the intensity levels at practice.
"At Northridge, in infield and outfield practice, everyone was trying to beat out the other guy and show that you deserved to play," Shoen said. "At Moorpark, some people are out there just to have fun, and that's fine. But about half of us want a future out of baseball. At Northridge, everyone wants to make it their future."
While Shoen feels he has stepped down a level, Egertson has found Moorpark's program a step up. Egertson, who hit .350 batting leadoff for Cal Lutheran, said the Kingsmens' practices were not to his liking.
Players, he said, tended to show up late. Cal Lutheran had a record of 23-15.
"We'd go out and stretch and there'd be 10 guys there," Egertson said. "Four people would be taking batting practice and everybody else would be in the outfield. You'd get in 20 cuts and go home two hours later. Nobody had any ambition to win.
"Stillwell knows what he's doing. It's a world of difference from Cal Lutheran to Moorpark. You can see it in practice."
"Whether he believes there is a world of difference between Moorpark and here, I can't respond to that," said Cal Lutheran Coach Al Schoenberger. "All I can say is that you get out of a program what you put into it."
The transition to junior college has not gone smoothly for Egertson and Shoen.
Egertson was supposed to play third base, which he considers his natural position, but he was moved to shortstop after Bobby Cabello became academically ineligible. Egertson is hitting .350.
Shoen, who is hitting .290, is experiencing on-the-job training at second base, where he has never played.
"He needs to soften his hands," Stillwell said. "He needs a lot of work."
In baseball terms, soft hands means being able to field the ball cleanly. Shoen has committed five errors in six games at second base.
Nevertheless, Stillwell's relationship with his double play combination is a symbiotic one. Egertson and Shoen have experienced the rigors of a four-year college season, and Stillwell is hoping that their business-like approach will rub off on Moorpark's other players.
Three years ago, their Thousand Oaks High team went 19-3 and won the Marmonte League championship. Shoen also was a member of CSUN's 1984 Division II national championship team, and was named the most valuable pLayer of the Western Regional.
Moorpark is a talented team, and is expected to do well this season despite starting off with a 4-4 record. Neither Shoen nor Egertson regrets leaving their four-year colleges.
"Sometimes, players get in and are not happy with the program or they can't handle the scholastic part," Stillwell said. "So they kind of backtrack for a year and then make another decision."