It is not that Jerry White needed a pre-packaged, add-to-boiling-water bag of baseball talent last year. White, whose teams have won four Western State Conference championships in 10 years, can cook up a quality junior college baseball team as expertly as any coach.
Usually he takes a little of this from the Ventura area, a little of that from the Oxnard area and a pinch each from the Conejo and Simi valleys to whip up something wonderful on the diamond.
But the brigade of former Rio Mesa High Spartans that enrolled en masse at Oxnard College a year ago lent a refreshing simplicity to the rest of White's preparation. He was able to plug in three infielders, a center fielder, and two pitcher-outfielders from a Rio Mesa team that had won two consecutive Southern Section 3-A Division titles.
That all six opted for Oxnard was not surprising. The center fielder is Phil White, Jerry's son, and most of the others know the Whites well enough to raid their cupboard of Twinkies without asking permission.
The result of all this familiarity was predictable: Oxnard captured the WSC Northern Division crown before losing a two-of-three series to Canyons for the conference championship.
All the former Spartans--now full-fledged Oxnard Condor sophomores--are back and their sights are set on a conference title and the state playoffs.
"We all think we should be better than we were last year," White said. "This club has the possibilities of improving on a year ago. It's going to take people coming through in key situations."
The toughest obstacle may be the same familiarity that so far has been a delight for White.
"I get too close to this group sometimes," he said. "I have a lot of empathy for what they're going through because I like these players as people. When they are not working as hard as I'd like, I find myself backing off. That's not right. I have to stay after people and remind them what it takes to be successful."
After winning two high school titles and a college division championship in the past three years, White should not have to remind them often. The list of Spartans-turned-Condors is headed by first baseman Sean Luft, a power hitter who was an All-WSC choice last year. Luft hit five home runs and drove in 28 runs in WSC play.
"Our park isn't made for power but Sean can hit it out anywhere," White said.
Heath DeLaTorre, a sure-handed shortstop with adequate range, bats third in the lineup and is another returning All-WSC choice. DeLaTorre batted .375 last season. Leadoff batter Mike Runge played second base last year but has switched to third.
"The left side of our infield is real solid," White said.
Phil White, the left-handed hitting center fielder, was a second-team All-WSC selection and is a motivator in the mold of his father. The pair of pitcher-outfielders are Phil Maquinalez and Javier Alcaraz, both right-handed throwers.
Catcher loomed as the largest hole White had to fill during the off-season, but 6-foot, 4-inch Tim Laker was recruited from Simi Valley High. Laker, an All-Southern Section choice who batted .452 last season, is an outstanding hitter who adds power to the lineup.
"Tim has the potential to be an excellent player," White said. "A strong catcher can make a mediocre pitcher a good pitcher. He will make our pitching staff better."
In addition to Maquinalez and Alcaraz, pitchers include sophomore right-handers Vale Lopez and Glenn Evans, both All-Northern Division selections last year. Lopez, who was 5-3 with an earned-run average of 3.09 last year, is from Hueneme High and Evans is from Newbury Park.
Don Schwarz, a sophomore left-hander from Sylmar High, enjoyed last season enough to recommend Oxnard to two other Sylmar players, left-handed pitcher Andre Moore and outfielder Brian McGahan. "All three are good players," White said.
There is a battle at second base between three freshmen. Art Espinoza, an All-Ventura County shortstop last year at Rio Mesa and a member of the Southern Section-champion team the year before, is fighting it out with Donovan Wallace of Chatsworth and Aaron Marcanelli of Santa Monica.
A trademark of White's teams is pitching depth. This year should be no exception, partly because of two freshmen imports from Canada. Blake Parker is a left-hander from Calgary and Al Kuz is a right-hander from Edmonton.
"I'm convinced that most pitchers at this level usually have only six or seven quality innings in them," said White, who is in his eighth year at Oxnard after coaching two years at Moorpark. "Even if a guy only goes three or four quality innings, that's success. When you have the arms to make a lead stand up, it reinforces the feeling that you don't have to go nine to be successful."
A lack of pitching depth is a chronic complaint of Ventura Coach Gary Anglin and Moorpark Coach Ron Stillwell. Both teams historically hit and field well and can play with anyone as long as their appointed ace is on the hill. But should he tire . . .