FALLBROOK — Long before T.J. Flynn rewrote the record books as San Diego County's all-time leading single-season high school slugger, he was hanging around with a guy who was going to become a pretty good hitter himself.
A teen-ager named George Brett would come to the Flynn house in El Segundo and baby-sit when T.J. was a 3-year-old.
Brett, of course, has gone on to become one of baseball's greatest hitters. And maybe some of his influence rubbed off on young T.J.
Flynn, Fallbrook High's senior right fielder, has hit 13 home runs this spring, more than any other player in one season in San Diego County history. Danny Rumsey of Mt. Carmel and Damon Hansel of Granite Hills hit 12 in 1985, and John Goulart of Granite Hills also had 12 in 1982.
Flynn had 12 through the first 18 games this season, then slumped for three games while trying to get the record.
At that point, Fallbrook Coach Dave Heid took somewhat drastic measures, moving Flynn from his accustomed No. 3 spot in the order to the leadoff spot for a nonleague game at home against Ramona.
"I wanted to get him as many at-bats as possible," Heid said. "He was pressing, and the record thing was causing him a lot of problems. He was struggling."
On the first pitch of the game, a fastball on the inside half of the plate, the right-handed hitting Flynn broke the record with a towering drive over the left-center field fence. The pressure was off, and a new name was in the record book.
"I was definitely having my troubles, but now that it's over, I'm back to normal," Flynn said.
Actually, Flynn has never really been what you would call normal. How many players, for instance, can swing at 10 pitches in batting practice and hit eight over the fence?
"When he started doing that during our preseason practices, I thought he might have a shot this season at the record," Heid said.
Cynics will point out that the center-field fence at Fallbrook High is only 330 feet from home plate. But Flynn says none of his 13 homers has been a cheap one.
"We have another fence behind the first one," Heid said. "It's about 360 feet to left field and another 30 feet higher. He's hit about five or six over that fence. No question, when he gets one, it really goes."
A year ago, Flynn wasn't just slugging baseballs.
According to Heid, Flynn got in five fights at school and was finally removed from the baseball team for disciplinary reasons with four weeks left in the 1986 season.
Flynn had hit six home runs before his removal and was disappointed in the way things ended. He wanted to go out strong in this, his senior season.
"I don't want to talk about last year," he said. "I just knew I was getting another chance this season and I was going to take advantage of it. I wanted to hit 20 home runs if I could. I don't think that will happen now (Fallbrook has two games remaining), but I'm happy I've had a good season."
Said Heid: "Nobody on our club works harder than T.J. He spent a lot of time pounding the weights in the off-season, and he came in ready to play."
Flynn was one of the finest pitchers to come up through Fallbrook's junior ranks, but a shoulder injury he suffered while playing football as a sophomore sent him to the outfield. He's just now beginning to throw as hard as he once did.
Flynn did not play football this season, thereby missing a chance to be a part of Fallbrook's section 3-A championship team. But he's not upset about missing out.
"I really love playing baseball," he said. "That's the thing I do best. First and foremost on my mind is getting a chance to play professionally."
Flynn's father, Bob, played in the Kansas City Athletics' system from 1960 to 1966 and has been able to give T.J. an idea of what the pro game is all about.
It was Bob who suggested to T.J. that he give up pitching to concentrate on a career as a hitter.
Heid said that some scouts have expressed an interest in Flynn. Flynn has said that if he is unable to sign out of high school, he'd go to a junior college for two years in hopes of drawing some attention.
"He has a lot of things going for him," Heid said. "He not only hits well from the right side, but he can hit left-handed as well. He hasn't done it this season, but he's a natural line-drive hitter from the left side."
Flynn is also a natural when it comes to working on cars and trucks. He spends a lot of his free time working on his four-wheel drive truck.
"I'll just go out on a Saturday afternoon and get under the truck for a few hours," Flynn said. "There's always something to be fixed. I'll just turn up the music and have a good time. Then I'll go driving."
He likes driving baseballs better, however.
"I don't really have any explanation for hitting this many home runs," he said. "I just try to hit the ball hard. When I do, it seems to fly."
Heid, meanwhile, is impressed with Flynn's improvement in attitude. He's settled down--on and off the field--and become a better player.
In a game against Poway, Flynn singled his first time up and walked his second. He has been walking a lot during the second half of the season because not many pitchers want to challenge him.
In his third trip to the plate, the count ran to 3 and 2 before Flynn was called out on a borderline pitch.
Flynn walked away and yelled to the home plate umpire: "You're crazy."
The umpire kicked Flynn out of the game.
Flynn turned to the umpire, then turned away and walked back into the dugout.
"Just the fact that he only said, 'You're crazy,' and nothing else shows how far he has come," Heid said. "I don't think he would have been able to do that in past years."