Before he sat down for an interview at Pepperdine's Eddy D. Field Stadium, first-year baseball Coach Andy Lopez had been working hard with a rake and shovel, trying to get the diamond ready for the season.
He was not attempting to repair the big hole in his pitching staff.
No tools could fill the gap left by the departure of the Waves' two best pitchers from last year: senior Doug Simons and sophomore Dennis Burbank.
Simons was a ninth-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins. Burbank is pitching for Cypress Junior College.
The pair had a combined record of 22-5, and Simons pitched 130 innings and Burbank 91. They were a big reason why the Waves won another West Coast Athletic Conference championship and advanced to the finals of the NCAA West II Regional before losing a doubleheader to Arizona State.
Dave Gorrie, Pepperdine's coach for 10 years, retired after last season and was hoping that Burbank, who last year was 11-2 with a 3.75 earned-run average, would be the strong man of the pitching staff this season.
Burbank came to Pepperdine on a basketball scholarship, but he played little basketball last year, quit the team and lost his scholarship. After he switched to baseball and began to pitch well, he asked Gorrie for a full baseball scholarship for his sophomore year. Gorrie tried to accommodate him.
The trouble was that many of Gorrie's players were on partial scholarships, and he had to do fancy juggling to come up with a full ride for Burbank. But he eventually did so, only to learn that Burbank had decided to leave Pepperdine.
Burbank said that Gorrie and the athletic department offered him the scholarship right after the end of last season and that he did not think that was soon enough.
"I wanted the commitment earlier," Burbank said. "I was willing to make the commitment, but they were not. To come up with the money on the very last day, when my car was packed, it was too late then."
Gorrie, still a member of the physical education faculty, said of his dealings with Burbank: "Whatever promises were made were kept. (The scholarship) would have come earlier if it had been available."
When Lopez, 34, took over, he tried to get Burbank to reconsider, but Burbank said, "I decided against it."
He said that although Lopez and his assistant, Bill Springman, had been "real good about it," he decided to stick with his decision to attend Cypress. He said he may have been influenced because he could sign with a major league team after only a season at Cypress. If he had stayed at Pepperdine or transferred to another NCAA Division I school, he would have had to wait until after his junior year under NCAA regulations.
"I would like to sign if the money is there," he said, "but Cypress has got the best program in the area. Cypress has a fantastic team this year."
Lopez, who came to Pepperdine after six successful seasons as head coach at Cal State Dominguez Hills, would like to have a fantastic team this season at Pepperdine. He may yet have one, but the loss of Burbank isn't his only pitching problem.
Sophomores Craig Stiveson and Scott Singelyn will not pitch this season. Stiveson, who missed last season with tendinitis in his arm, has not recovered from shoulder surgery. Singelyn, who dropped out of school last winter after eligibility problems, is back in school but is again ineligible.
Lopez will rely on four junior pitchers who did not see much action last year: Britt Craven, Wayne Helm, Randy Hacker and Kipp Landis. Left-hander John Kuzmic, a transfer from Orange Coast Junior College and the only recruit of Lopez, is expected to help.
Craven was 5-3 with a 5.26 ERA, Helm 4-2 and 2.92, Hacker 1-1 and 4.49 and Landis 3-3 and 5.84. Helm is coming off elbow surgery that cut last season short.
The news is not all bad. Lopez has 15 lettermen, led by four all-conference selections: senior center fielder Rick Hirtensteiner, senior first baseman Scott Shockey, Craven and junior shortstop Chris Martin.
Hirtensteiner, a first-team selection with Shockey, led the Waves with a .337 batting average and stole 18 bases. Shockey batted .303 with team-high marks of nine home runs and 54 runs batted in. Martin, named to the second team with Craven, hit .319.
In the preseason rankings of Collegiate Baseball, Pepperdine was No. 17, ahead of No. 24 Loyola Marymount and No. 29 Santa Clara. Santa Clara finished in second place in the conference last year behind Pepperdine and Loyola was third. All went to the NCAA playoffs.
Lopez, a UCLA infielder who was a ninth-round draft choice of the Detroit Tigers in 1975, has faced more difficult problems than how to get through a season without as much pitching as he'd like.
He had to decide between baseball and education when he was drafted by the Tigers. He chose education, graduating from UCLA and obtaining a master's degree in educational administration.