The distances that athletes will travel to compete provide constant wonder for Pierce College baseball Coach Bob Lyons, who has had his share of walk-ons, transfers, drop-ins and dropouts.
But Lyons was really taken aback last summer by a call from the college's foreign-students office requesting that he meet immediately with a freshman from the other side of the world interested in pitching for the Brahmas.
Shinya Fukada, a 19-year-old Japanese right-hander, introduced himself and agreed to an impromptu tryout outside Lyons' office.
"I wanted to see if he was really a ballplayer," Lyons said. "You could see right away that he had some talent."
Just how much talent and whether it can be effective in game situations will be addressed shortly as the baseball season gets under way for Pierce and other Valley-area junior colleges.
Fukada, who was born in Tokyo, spent two years as a high school exchange student in Boise, Ida., before moving to the Valley last summer.
"Boise was very different from Tokyo," said Fukada, who lives with his sister in Sherman Oaks. "And the Valley is very different from Boise."
Fukada, however, is fitting right in. Ask him who his favorite player was when he arrived in the United States and he responds like a seasoned Valley dude.
"Dwight Gooden," Fukada says. "He was totally awesome."
Fukada was a pretty fair pitcher himself during his years at Borah High, compiling a 7-2 record as a junior when the Boise school finished second in the state. Last season he was 8-4.
Don Clegg, who has coached baseball at Borah for 17 years, remembered seeing Fukada working out quietly in the weight room before the season but didn't stop to ask if he was a baseball player.
"It's kind of a clinic story," Clegg said. "It was during the spring and we were getting ready to work out our pitchers. One of the kids was playing catch with him and he said, 'Look at this guy.' "
Fukada played in youth leagues in Japan but had not played baseball for two years when he arrived in Boise. He quickly discovered that the American brand of baseball is much different from the one he grew up with.
"Everyone here has their own individual style," Fukada said. "In Japan, all the hitters and pitchers are taught to hit and throw the same way. Here you can do whatever you want, whatever you're comfortable with.
"There are also more power hitters here and they're all big. In Japan, I was pretty big. I came out here and I'm pretty small."
Lyons said the 5-9 Fukada will play a large, but still undetermined role for Pierce this season.
"We're going to feel our way around with him and see how he best fits into our plans," Lyons said. "He's working on his breaking stuff and if he gets that together he's going to be very tough."
Fukada and the entire staff will have to be effective if the Brahmas are to improve on last season's 13-21 overall record and 9-16 finish in the Western State Conference.
"It looks like we're going to have a better shot at winning more games simply because we have better pitching," said Lyons, whose team opens at home against East L. A. this afternoon. "Last year we had the hitting, but no arms at all."
This season's staff includes just two sophomores, right-handers Paul Bedigian and Kevin Day, a converted outfielder from Moorpark College.
Court Wright, a transfer from USC who played at Calabasas High, is a hard-throwing right-hander and Pete Draglovsky is the team's only left-hander.
The Pierce offense likely will not be as productive as it was last season, but that's hardly cause for concern, considering the Brahmas batted .336. Mark Bowen, who hit .381 last season, is now at Cal State Northridge, but plenty of good hitters remain.
Sophomore outfielders Sebastian Goodlow and Paul Plyler who batted .365 and .340, have returned. John Brasher, an all-conference third baseman at Oxnard last season, is another potential run-producer and Jeremy Lipton, freshman first baseman from Oak Park High, will be expected to provide the team's power.
The most powerful team in the Valley this season could again be Canyons, which finished 34-10-1, won the Western State Conference with a 22-2-1 record and made its seventh consecutive playoff appearance.
The Cougars are relatively inexperienced with 19 freshmen on their 28-player roster, but experienced players such as catcher Mike Bible, outfielders Roger Nix, Billy Picketts and Ray Palagyi and pitchers Tim Nedin and Kevin Miner should provide stability.
Bible batted .520 with 15 home runs and 69 runs batted in and won All-American recognition. Nix (.418, 13 HRs, 41 RBIs), Picketts (.335) and Palagyi (.363) give the Cougars a superb outfield. The left-handed Nedin (5-2) and right-handed Miner (2-0) are solid starters.
Canyon will present an all-freshman infield with Don Pederson of Saugus High at first base, Randy Cooper of Hoover at second, Jeff Flesher of Canyon at shortstop and Ernie Perez of Birmingham at third.