A game-winning home run in the semifinals of the playoffs can do wonders for a high school player's popularity.
Just ask Esperanza shortstop Tom Redington, whose two-run shot in the sixth inning Tuesday gave the Aztecs a 6-5 victory over Simi Valley and a berth in tonight's Southern Section 4-A championship game against Fontana at Dodger Stadium.
When he got to school Wednesday, Redington was congratulated by students he didn't even know.
Chalkboard messages awaited in several classes. One said: "Congratulations, Tom. What a Shot!" Another said: "Go Aztecs!" His chemistry teacher wrote the final score on the board and added: "Dodger Stadium, Here We Come!"
"It was probably one of the most exciting days at school I've ever had," Redington said.
A Star is Born.
Well, not quite.
Those who have followed the Aztecs all year know that Redington, a junior, has been the heart of this predominantly senior team.
Batting in the No. 3 spot, Redington, who is hitting .429 (36 for 84), has set school records for home runs (9), RBIs (37), runs scored (34), doubles (9, tied with Eric Cox) and walks (27).
In 107 plate appearances, he has struck out just three times.
He's come through with several clutch hits, including a two-run double that tied Loara, 3-3, in the top of the seventh inning of an Empire League game in March. The Aztecs won, 6-3.
But Tuesday's homer, which came on a 3-2 count and traveled over the 360-foot sign in left-center field at Cal State Fullerton, was his biggest and most dramatic hit of the season.
"You gotta love that situation," Redington said. "You know that if you come through, you're gonna be in the limelight, you're gonna be the guy. That's why you play the game--for the fun--and you can't have much more fun than that.
"You stay up all night before a game hoping you get a chance to win it, and if you get that chance, you don't want to let it go."
Redington stayed up most of Tuesday night watching the videotape of the game. After the team ate dinner at a Yorba Linda restaurant, about 10 players came over to Redington's house to watch the replay.
"The end was pretty exciting," Redington said. "I didn't want to watch the home run when everyone was here, but as soon as everyone left, I rewound the tape about 10 times.
"I've got to get a copy of that tape. If I get in a slump, I can just watch that swing and I'll be all right."
Defensively, Redington, a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder, has made only seven errors in 28 games at what is considered one of the more difficult positions in baseball.
His only defensive weakness may be a lack of quickness, but Redington makes up for it with good hands and a strong arm.
Other shortstops may get to some grounders in the hole but are not able to throw the runner out. If Redington gets to a ball, there's a good chance he'll make the play. After Tuesday's game, Redington said that several San Fernando Valley reporters, after seeing Esperanza for the first time, were surprised to learn that he was a junior.
Considering his size, power and defensive proficiency, it would be easy to assume Redington is a senior. Or a college player.
"Every time I look at him I think, 'I've got this guy for another year,' " Esperanza Coach Mike Curran said. "It's a good feeling."
Curran doesn't get too carried away discussing Redington's size, though. He knows that his father, also named Tom, is 6-7. And his 13-year-old brother, Danny, already is 6-0, 185.
"Tom is the runt of the family," Curran said.
Said Redington: "Hopefully, I'll grow to about 6-3. I figure I'll sprout up one day or just wake up and be 6-3. Maybe I have more of my mom (Mary Ann) in me. She's only 5-4. I'm stuck in between, I guess."
He may not be the big man of the family, but Redington has certainly been the Big Man On Campus this week at Esperanza.