The end came early for the Santa Monica High School baseball team. Coach Eddie Frierson's Vikings had hoped to be in Dodger Stadium on June 6 for the CIF Southern Section 4-A championship game.
But Westlake, behind the three-hit pitching of knuckle-baller John Chiaramonte, eliminated Ocean League champion Santa Monica, 5-2, last Friday in the first round of the playoffs.
Santa Monica came into the game with a 20-5 record, reportedly the best regular-season mark in school history, a season that included a 15-game winning streak. The Vikings came out with a 20-6 record, and underdog Westlake improved to 14-10-1.
During the regular season, Santa Monica batted .338 and was excellent on the base paths, stealing 88 bases in 96 attempts. But the Vikings seldom connected solidly off Chiaramonte, made a couple of base-running mistakes and committed fielding errors that led to a couple of Westlake runs. The errors included drops of a fly ball and a pop-up and another drop by an infielder attempting to complete a double play.
Stephen Baker, the former Hamilton High School and West Los Angeles College wide receiver who was a third-round draft choice of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, apparently had some trouble getting started at rookie camp recently at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
He had a lot of trouble just getting there, according to a story by Tom Canavan of the Associated Press.
Baker, drafted out of Fresno State, encountered problems on his flight from Los Angeles to Newark, problems that caused the flight to take a gruesome 11 hours. First his plane was put in a holding pattern over Newark, then rerouted to Philadelphia when it began running out of fuel and finally was delayed about three hours in Philadelphia by engine trouble.
When he finally arrived at Giants Stadium it was cold and raining, and he dropped the first three passes thrown to him by quarterbacks Phil Simms and Jeff Rutledge.
"I see how aggressive I have to get and really go after the ball," Baker was quoted as saying. "After a while I got the hang of it, but it was different than college. It was raining, and I'm not used to that."
What Baker has been used to is catching the ball and taking it a long way in almost no time at all. At West Los Angeles College, which dropped football last year, Baker picked up the nickname "The Touchdown Maker" after setting records for catching scoring passes. In 1983, his first season with the Oilers, he had 15 receptions for touchdowns, and in 1984 he caught 16 more to tie a state junior college record. As a sophomore, he was named a first-team All-American by the J.C. Athletic Bureau.
In two seasons at Fresno State, he caught 62 passes for 1,629 yards (an average of 26.3 yards a reception) and 13 touchdowns. He also scored three touchdowns on punt returns, including runs of 77 and 84 yards.
He seems to have shrunk a little since he played for WLAC, where he was listed at 5-9 and 157 pounds. The AP story puts his height at 5-7 1/2 and does not list his weight.
But he seems to be as fast, maybe faster. The wire story said he ran 40 yards in 4.37 seconds.
Baker may be a little smaller than he used to be, but he is probably as tough as ever--and he has gotten off to poor starts before.
After graduating from Hamilton in 1982, he injured his right shoulder twice when he hit the ground while trying to catch passes, once in a summer passing league and then in a WLAC practice. He had to sit out the 1982 season after he dislocated the shoulder in the second fall and underwent surgery to correct the problem.
But he came back to star at WLAC and Fresno State.
Jim Babcock, Baker's coach at WLAC, used to say that Baker was surprisingly tough. "In our first football game last year, I was wondering how long he was going to last," Babcock told The Times in 1984.
"But he took some good shots (from tacklers) and got back up. He is durable and has great pain tolerance.
"Obviously, he is at his best going to the outside. But he runs some tough inside patterns and can do it inside. He is not afraid."
The AP story said it won't be easy for Baker to make the Giants' squad. "New York has six wide receivers returning from last year's team," Canavan wrote. "The club also drafted Mark Ingram of Michigan State on the first round of the NFL draft and grabbed Odessa Turner of Northwestern Louisiana on the fourth round."
Baker told the AP writer, "There is a lot of competition, and competition brings out the best in everyone. This is going to be great, and I'm just going to try to come in and make the team."
It might help if he recalled what he told The Times in a 1984 interview: "My speed pretty much gets me by, and I have a lot of heart."