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Spiller Adjusts His Sights : Legion Star Finds Success After Contacts Help Him Find the Plate

July 07, 1988|TIM BROWN | Times Staff Writer

To get an idea of what Derron Spiller went through every time he pitched, carefully adhere two coke bottles to the brim of your baseball cap with masking tape. Put the contraption on your head, with the openings of the bottles surrounding each eye socket.

Then, go stand 60 feet, 6 inches from a 12-inch brown target. Do a pirouette and try to hit the target with a baseball. After you've chased down the ball you've just thrown into the parking lot, you'll have some appreciation for what Spiller was going through. Because until this past baseball season at Rio Mesa High, Spiller was pitching with 20-200 vision in his left eye and 20-70 in his right.

Spiller has an astigmatism that was not correctly diagnosed until recently.

"I think he was so afraid of wearing glasses he was afraid to say anything," Derron's mother, Sandy, said. "But he had headaches and couldn't read anything on the blackboard."

Often, she said, Derron would cross up the catcher with a fastball when a curveball was called. "At night," she said, "Derron said the catcher's glove looked like it was moving around."

For the first time, he is wearing contact lenses to correct his vision. The results have been eye-opening for both the Camarillo American Legion team and the St. Louis Cardinals. Spiller, despite being reduced to a relief role at Rio Mesa, is 5-0 with 38 strikeouts and a 2.57 earned-run average as a starter for Camarillo. His fastball has been clocked as high as 82 m.p.h.

On Monday, he was the winning pitcher in Camarillo's 12-3 victory over Scottsdale, Ariz., in the championship game of the Gene Waid Memorial Tournament.

"Derron pitched beautifully," Camarillo Coach Rich Herrera said. "He just pitched great. Every time he has a good outing, it gets better and better."

St. Louis Cardinal scout Steve Flores first spied Spiller during Rio Mesa's 1987 season, when things were not quite so beautiful. Spiller's mechanics were poor, said Flores, who frequented the games to see Rio Mesa's ace, Scott Bush. But at 6-5, 224 pounds, Spiller had the size attributes that catch scouts' eyes quicker than Great Whites spot tan lines.

Flores went to a tournament in Glendale in 1987 and, "There was this huge left-hander on the mound." He jotted the name, Derron Spiller in his file pad. A couple months later, Flores returned, "And I see Derron Spiller walking around. I had forgotten all about him."

One year later, in this year's free-agent draft, the Cardinals made Spiller their 38th pick.

The interest caught Spiller by surprise.

"I was just happy to be drafted," he said. "I didn't think I would because I didn't play too much during high school. I can throw hard and have the potential, but I still need to learn how to pitch.

"I just have to work hard and do the best I can do. I know what I can do. I know what I have inside."

Flores thinks he knows something about Spiller's makeup. He said Spiller has the same "cockiness-confidence" as St. Louis reliever Todd Worrell.

"I see a little bit of what Worrell had in him inside," Flores said. "Not the physical, but inside. Todd had something in his eyes. You talk to Derron, and he's got that same thing.

"That's why I have a feeling something's going to happen with him. But I'm not guaranteeing anything."

The Cardinals own the rights to Spiller through next year's draft, so Flores doesn't mind that Spiller will forgo signing with the club to attend Ventura College in the fall. In fact, Flores thinks it is a good idea.

"I think this boy just needs some time to ease into it," he said. "I've got the rights to him for another year, so I'm in no hurry. Let the boy relax. Let him have some fun."

At last, not only does Spiller have the body to play baseball, he also has the contacts.

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