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Absolute Beginner, Absolutely Marvelous : Bad Old Days of Rancho Santiago Pitcher Kim Martin Fade in the Blur of Her Fastball


What Kim Martin is today is not what she thought she'd ever be. It's not what anyone who knew her thought she'd ever be. Martin, after all, wasn't the kind of child who excelled in athletics.

"She couldn't throw the ball over the plate, she had no speed, she couldn't field a bunt and she couldn't bat," said Jim LeFebvre, a kinesiologist who has been training pitchers and hitters for 35 years. He has trained Martin for nine years.

"I was absolutely terrible," Martin says of her days in the Westminster Little Miss Softball program. "I wasn't a pitcher back then. I was basically a bench warmer. I probably was the most klutzy and unathletic person out there."

But there was something about Martin that impressed LeFebvre.

"She looked me straight in the eye the day we met and told me she was going to be the best pitcher I've ever trained," LeFebvre said. "I could tell just by talking to her she had that killer instinct. And she's still got that tremendous desire to win."

Martin has parlayed her intensity into successful pitching. The kid who couldn't throw strikes is the young woman California community college hitters fear most. Martin, 19, was named the state's pitcher of the year by the California Coaches Assn. She'll lead Rancho Santiago College in the state championships at Napa Valley College today and Sunday.

The thought of succeeding in athletics, however, couldn't have been further from her mind when she was growing up.

"No one was helping me, and I really wanted to play," she said. "We didn't have any pitchers on the team and Dad asked me if I wanted to try it. I was ecstatic. It was, like, the best thing to do."

Her start, however, hardly was enthusiastic.

"Dad and I would throw at a nearby field," she said. "I'd throw it in the dirt, outside, inside, anywhere but over the plate. I'd throw the ball over the backstop, over the fence, into the street. I'd do that all the time and my dad would make me chase it. I'd come home crying because I couldn't get the ball over the plate. But the next day, I'd be out there again."

Soon, the Martins decided to enroll Lisa in the Ron LeFebvre Schools of Softball and Baseball. Lisa's father, Dick, first had to persuade LeFebvre, whose daughter, Susan, is Cal State Fullerton's No. 1 pitcher, to teach his daughter.

"Here was a girl who had little or no talent who wanted to succeed," LeFebvre said. "There wasn't anything, from the way she used her fingers to the way she moved her feet, that she did right. To Kim Martin, nothing ever came naturally. But she worked and she worked and she worked."

Martin began training with a vengeance. She'd pitch to her dad 40 minutes a day, year-round, in addition to her once-a-week sessions with LeFebvre. At $9 a lesson, it was an investment. But by the time she was 14, Martin began to gain control over her high-powered releases.

By her sophomore year at Westminster High, Martin was good enough to share the pitching duties with Michelle Phillips, who is now at UCLA. The next season, Dick Martin became the coach, Martin made the All-Sunset League, and the Lions went from last place to first.

After a less-than-satisifying senior season, Martin attended the University of Missouri on scholarship.

But it wasn't a pleasant experience.

"A lot of things went wrong," Martin said. "I was young, I was homesick, and I didn't know anybody there. Plus, the coach and I didn't get along. Playing softball didn't seem worthwhile anymore."

Missouri Coach Joyce Compton, who scheduled practices from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m., had her own ideas of how Martin should pitch. But she said the problem wasn't a matter of clashing personalities.

"I think the distance had a lot to do with it," Compton said. "Possibly, she was not comfortable working with new people. I'm sure not being close to Ron (LeFebvre) was a big factor. I think in a situation in which she could have been a little happier she could have performed more up to her potential."

Martin returned to California last summer, and with the help of LeFebvre tried to find a new team.

"I went to Golden West, talked to their coach, went to Cypress, talked to a few other teams, even went out to Northridge," she said. "I did a lot of talking but no one seemed too interested. I don't think too many people knew me. I'm just not the type of pitcher who catches people's eyes. I don't strike out 21 batters a game."

Finally, Martin settled on Rancho Santiago, where she heard Jim Reach had developed a fun and successful program.

"She told me she wanted to be the No. 1 pitcher, but I told her I couldn't promise her anything," Reach said. "I told her she would have to prove it. At that point, I didn't think she was going to attend Rancho Santiago.

"Two weeks later, I saw her again and she told me she wanted to go for it. She did and she's earned it. We wouldn't be where we are without her."

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