When the Cal State Dominguez Hills baseball team opens against an alumni team Saturday, Coach Andy Lopez will probably get a little misty.
The emotion won't be completely nostalgic.
His team is ranked fourth in preseason polls, based on two straight California Collegiate Athletic Assn. titles and a solid returning nucleus. But when Lopez looks at his team, he sees more players wearing Johnson and Johnson than sporting Dominguez Hills uniforms. Half of Lopez's team has gone down with injuries. Whirlpools are being renamed SS Toro.
Lopez says it's nice to have enough of a national reputation in Division II circles to earn preseason prestige, but he'd rather have the bodies in uniform.
"I was happy with the players I had recruited and the team that showed up in September," Lopez said. "We looked pretty good in October. Now we've got a first baseman playing second base, a left fielder at third base. We're starting over right when we should be set.
"I still feel there are enough key guys, but we've had an unbelievable amount of injuries. We've lost eight players in three weeks, probably four starters. We can still put together a run in the conference. We're not barren. We're not hanging out white flags."
Second baseman John Paboojian broke his leg, reserve catcher John Baldwin tore a knee ligament, pitcher Ron Bunse suffered a separated shoulder and catcher Mike McCarthy has had a tender elbow after off-season surgery. Also during the off-season, second baseman Terry Bauer broke an ankle.
Then there have been the unusual losses. Freshman infielder Craig Turley, who figured to be a starter, has a cyst on his spine. He had surgery Tuesday and Lopez said he may have to relearn motor functions. And catcher McCarthy is getting over chicken pox and may not be available for the weekend opening series at Arizona.
"It puts a little bit of a dent in our program, even next year. You hope they can come back," Lopez said.
The trimmed roster makes this season an even bigger challenge for Lopez and the Toros, who are coming off a first-ever appearance in the Division II World Series last June. Lopez is 109-60-1 over the last three seasons and is 62-28 in the CCAA, probably the toughest Division II conference in the nation.
The Toros are among three CCAA teams ranked in the top seven in preseason. Cal State Northridge was rated sixth and Cal Poly Pomona seventh.
"I know and the players know we're not going to sneak up on anybody," Lopez said. "With the injuries we're going to have to pay attention to details. And we could use some breaks. So far we haven't gotten many."
The Toros return several pitchers--the key in the 30-game conference race--including Joe Cortez (8-2 last season), Bruce Vegely (4-2) and Bunse (2-2) and added Dave Haggard, who was 10-2 at Harbor College. Outfielder Joe Pardo is the top returning hitter with a .302 average. Joe Jones hit .291 as a part-time starter.
Reliever Chris Haslock, who was dominating last season (12 saves, a 2.42 earned-run average), will also play outfield. A top newcomer is shortstop Rick Davis, a junior out of Mt. San Antonio College. Both are probable pro draftees.
Loyola Marymount's 13-game basketball winning streak--second longest in the nation behind Brigham Young's 15--dates back to when high-scoring guard Bo Kimble came off the injured list. Kimble, however, has started only the last four games, and Loyola Coach Paul Westhead said the lineup change didn't stem from any noticeable improvement by Kimble or from any shortcoming of Jeff Fryer, who now plays off the bench.
"I felt he (Kimble) needed a boost to play at a level higher than he had," Westhead explained after one game last weekend. Kimble had back-to-back 27-point games. "If we kept him on the bench he might flatten out. I think he's playing at a higher level now. It was nothing against Jeff Fryer. Fryer's doing very well. He might be our most consistent player at both ends of the floor. He might be our best defender. You'll notice he's always in the middle of our press, scrambling for loose balls and harassing the ball handler."
Kimble, who combines a silky touch from three-point range with an array of inside moves for devastating scoring barrages, has raised his average to 18.7 points and has scored 243 points in 279 minutes.
Fryer's play hasn't suffered off the bench. His conference average is 11 points and his season average is 10.9, and he's shooting better overall and from three-point range.
Mike Yoest's hustle and spirit on the basketball court isn't lost on Loyola Marymount fans. At last weekend's games, Loyola students started wearing "Mike Yoest Fan Club" T-shirts. The shirts say: "It's not just skill, it's an attitude."