Jeff Sofro doesn't come across as a brash, throw-caution-to-the-wind gambling man. But he is a gambler, nonetheless.
His biggest wager is in two parts. However, neither can be decided on a gaming table.
The first half of the bet took place on the basketball court. He will learn the results of the second half on the baseball diamond this spring.
Sofro, an All-Southern Section point guard who averaged 21.7 points a game for Glendale High last year, was also named The Times 1988 All-Glendale baseball Player of the Year and could probably have comfortably balanced both sports at one of the many Division II and III schools that recruited him. He was courted by UC Davis, Cal Lutheran, Redlands and Pomona-Pitzer. Instead, he chose to attend Pepperdine, a Division I school.
Therein lies the gamble.
This year, Sofro was the only walk-on to make the Pepperdine basketball squad. There was a catch, however. He had a choice of playing only in the Waves' Southern California games, or redshirting his freshman season.
Because Sofro did not indicate he was interested in redshirting, Coach Tom Asbury played him for 3 minutes in a preseason game against Athletes in Action, thereby nullifying the option to redshirt. Therefore, Sofro will lose a year of basketball eligibility unless the petition he submitted to the NCAA is approved.
About a month ago, Sofro approached Asbury and said he was going to hone his baseball skills for the upcoming season in lieu of practicing with the basketball team. Asbury says if Sofro plans to devote his time to baseball, even temporarily, he should drop the idea of picking up basketball next year.
"He'd better find a way to overlap and double up," Asbury said. "He's a great kid. I love him. But he's not Bo Jackson. He's a long way from Division I and you don't get better at basketball by throwing batting practice or swinging a bat.
"I told him, 'If you quit basketball now, you're pretty much making the decision to quit bas ketball forever.' "
Sofro disagrees. Last year he concentrated entirely on baseball for a month and did not play basketball, yet he still made the Pepperdine roster.
Though trying to make the grade in 2 sports at Pepperdine is unusual, Sofro is not a trailblazer. Last year, Dennis Burbank spent part of his time on the pitching mound and part in the paint as a forward on the basketball team.
In an interview with The Times' Ray Ripton last April, Burbank said he had to let go of basketball. "At this level, it's not a matter of which sport I enjoy more, but what I want to do with my life," said Burbank, who would spend an hour at baseball practice and 2 hours at basketball practice when the seasons overlapped. "I'm a baseball player and I just happen to have the ability to play basketball."
Burbank quit competitive basketball and now pitches in the junior college ranks for Cypress.
Sofro says playing both sports will be even tougher for him than it was for Burbank because Sofro is an infielder and will have to prepare for each game instead of working into a pitching rotation.
Because Pepperdine returns all infield starters except at third base, Sofro is competing with 3 freshman for that position. Coach Andy Lopez had planned to move outfielder Jim Doyle to third but Rick Hirtensteiner, also an outfielder, might have to join the Waves' ailing pitching staff, keeping Doyle in the outfield.
Lopez scouted Sofro at an American Legion game at North Hollywood High last summer and was impressed by his 6-foot, 2-inch, 180-pound frame.
"He's got real good size and he looks like he's going to fill out even more," he said.
Lopez was also struck by Sofro's attentiveness.
"Pitch by pitch he knew what was going on," Lopez said. "He didn't have his back to the pitcher or his head in the stands. It was quite refreshing.
"Usually, the guys who make the step up pay attention to each of the 24 hours they have in a day," he said.
If he plans to play both sports, Sofro might need 25.