After a Conejo Valley Little League all-star team won a sectional championship Thursday evening, the 12-year-old boys were whooping it up at a Thousand Oaks pizza parlor. A former CVLL all-star who happened to be in town dropped by to offer congratulations.
This normally wouldn't have caused the kids to pause from stuffing their faces. But when this ex-little leaguer walked in, they nearly choked on their cheese.
Kurt Stillwell--1977 CVLL all-star--plays shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds these days. The 21-year-old rookie is staying at his parents' home in Thousand Oaks this weekend while the Reds play a three-game series at Dodger Stadium.
"It feels great to be home even for a few days," said Stillwell before Friday's game. "I'll be a little nervous tonight because my family and a bunch of friends are here, but once the game starts, I'll tune it out."
Stillwell batted leadoff Friday and opened the game with a long line out to left field. He singled in his next two at bats to boost his average over .200 for the first time since being recalled from the Reds' Triple-A club in Denver. Stillwell was 0 for 3 on Saturday but played errorless ball in both games.
"Man, this is where I belong," he said. "I'm playing games from start to finish now and getting four at-bats a game. That's nice to know when I come to the park.
"In a game last week, I couldn't wait to get up one more time against Ed Whitson. I knew I'd see the heater."
Stillwell ripped a two-run single against the San Diego Padres right-hander. If Stillwell appears to have the confidence of a veteran, it's because this is somewhat of a second season for him.
Stillwell, the Reds' No. 1 draft pick in 1983, was the youngest player in the National League when the season opened. After struggling at the plate in limited playing time, he was sent last month to Denver. After only 12 days in Triple-A, however, Stillwell was recalled when shortstop Dave Concepcion broke his hand.
"That's the way the game goes," Stillwell said. "It was a break for me. I'm not even worried about when Dave is coming back."
Reds Manager Pete Rose is showing confidence in the first-year player--Stillwell has the green light to steal a base unless Rose gives him a sign \o7 not \f7 to go. Stillwell is 3 for 3 stealing so far.
"Had I been in Triple-A all season," Stillwell said, "I'd have been a nervous wreck when I was thrown into the starting lineup. I'm relaxed because I know what to expect. That's the only way to play baseball."
And for Stillwell, the only \o7 place \f7 to play is in the major leagues.