When George Pedre hits, everybody watches. Well, not everybody, but everyone who comes to West Los Angeles College baseball games oohs and ahs when Pedre comes to bat.
Community college baseball is not a big draw. Teams usually play day games, mostly when fans are working.
And it's a shame that more people can't get out to see Pedre, the former Culver City High School star, hit his towering, fence-seeking drives. The long ball is what many people like to see, and he hits a lot of long balls.
The other day, WLAC lost a 10-9 game to El Camino when the latter team scored seven runs--many unearned--in the top of the ninth inning. Though the Oilers went into the ninth with a 9-3 lead, their pitchers couldn't hold the lead, giving up a bunch of walks and thereby giving the game away.
Pedre's hitting had been partly responsible for his team's big lead. He didn't hit a home run, but he smacked a 400-foot triple to center that hit the fence on the fly, belted a 375-foot double that hit the right-field fence, fouled one out of the park along the left-field line, sent the left fielder to the fence to catch a towering drive and lined a far-from-ordinary single to center and then stole second.
And the 5-11 1/2, 210-pound Pedre did all that hitting and running while playing catcher, a chore that is hard on a player's legs and endurance. He also made a putout at the plate.
If that isn't enough of an iron-man performance, he played that day--and stole a base and blocked off the plate against a runner--with a pulled muscle in his left leg, an injury incurred in an earlier game while he was trying to beat out a grounder for an infield hit.
Against El Camino he went three for five at the plate and brought his week's production to six hits in 12 at bats, including a homer, two doubles and a triple and four runs batted in. As a result, his batting average dropped from .529 to .524.
In 16 games, Pedre has six home runs, tying the WLAC school season record of Matt Amido, and 22 RBIs. WLAC, which has a 9-7 overall record and is 3-3 in the Mountain Valley Conference, has 15 games remaining in the regular season, including a 2 p.m. home game today against Mission. And with at least 15 games to go, Pedre seems a sure bet to break the WLAC home-run record and a couple of other hitting marks.
It is not surprising what WLAC Coach Art Harris says about the 19-year-old Pedre, who was drafted in January by the Atlanta Braves. Harris, whose past players include 40 who have been drafted by major league teams, said that "for power hitting, he's the best we've ever had."
Harris' comments are reminiscent of those made by Pedre's high school coach, Culver City's Dave Ruebsamen, in 1984, Pedre's senior year: "He's the best high school power hitter I've ever seen."
Ruebsamen also told of seeing one Pedre line drive knock the glove off the third baseman who tried to catch it and of another sidelining a third baseman when it hit him in the ankle.
"George's home runs would be home runs anywhere. They would have gone out of the Dodgers' or Angels' stadiums," Ruebsamen said.
Although Pedro Guerrero of the Dodgers is one of his idols, Pedre wouldn't mind hitting a few out of the stadium in Chavez Ravine--and a few more out of the Atlanta park, where Dale Murphy, another of his heroes, plays center field.
If the Braves make a solid offer to him, he said, he will sign with that National League team. He would not say how much money it would take for him to sign, but he added that, if it isn't enough, he thinks he will probably be playing next season for Cal State Long Beach.
Because he did not play at WLAC last year as a freshman, this is Pedre's first season of community college ball. Harris said that Pedre spent last year "trying (and succeeding) to get his academic act together. He has really matured."
Pedre would be eligible to play for WLAC next year, but by then the school may not have a baseball program.
Coach Given Notice
In an economy wave instituted by the Los Angeles Community College District, Harris is one of 39 district coaches and physical education instructors who received dismissal notices. Harris said he has been offered a classroom post teaching English or mathematics at WLAC.
An outfielder in high school, Pedre was converted to catcher by Harris this season. "To be honest," the coach said, "I felt that's where he belonged all his life. He has a quick release (of the ball while throwing) and quick feet."
His bat is also quick. He has a short, compact swing, and because of that he usually makes contact and doesn't strike out much. Harris said that Pedre strikes out less than one time in every 10 at bats, an unusually low ratio for a long-ball hitter.