A telephone call from Gabe Diaz was all it took to get Gary Anglin excited about his Ventura College baseball team's chances of winning its first Western State Conference title in 15 years.
Diaz, a hard-hitting shortstop from Hueneme High, called Anglin last summer to tell the veteran coach that he would play for the Pirates.
"I told him he made my day," Anglin said. "As a position player, he was our top recruit. Gabe is an intense player who does not like to lose and has strong leadership qualities."
Anglin had good reason to be excited. Diaz (5-foot-6, 155 pounds) batted .448, scored 31 runs, had nine doubles, four triples, 24 runs batted in and stole 13 bases last season. In addition, the three-time All-Channel League infielder did not strike out in 96 at-bats.
Anglin said Diaz chose Ventura because he wanted to stay near his Oxnard home this season. No matter the reason, Anglin is glad to get him.
But Diaz is not the only impressive player recruited by Anglin, who believes he has put together what may be his finest team.
Lupe Carrillo, an infielder from Oxnard High who was second in the county in hitting (.490) last season, and Darrell McMillin, a freshman infielder who batted .443 for Ventura High, will also play for the Pirates.
Ventura bolstered its pitching staff with the addition of Derron Spiller of Rio Mesa High, Dean McMillin, who had an 8-4 record and 2.62 earned-run average for Ventura High last season, and Mike Teron, who had a 7-1 record and a 2.24 ERA for Santa Clara High. Spiller and McMillin are left-handed and Teron is right-handed.
Shane Espitia, the Pirates' top returning pitcher, had a 5-8 record and a 4.71 ERA as a freshman.
Anglin lost pitcher Ed Leger, who signed with the Cleveland Indians after his freshman season. The All-WSC reliever was 5-1 with six saves and a 2.15 ERA last year.
The Pirates will need strong pitching to improve on last season's second-place finish in the Northern Division of the WSC. Ventura has finished second to Oxnard each of the last three seasons. "We really want it this year and I feel like our pitching is strong enough to do the job for us," Anglin said.
Ventura set a single-season record for wins with a 24-12 overall mark last season. The Pirates' .316 batting average was another school record. It's the disappointment of continually taking a back seat to Oxnard that lingers with Anglin.
The Pirates finished 15-9 in WSC play and narrowly missed a playoff berth after losing both ends of a doubleheader to Bakersfield on the last day of the season.
"I'm a little apprehensive about this year because we're so young, but I don't want to wait for next season," Anglin said.
Brent Cookson, a sophomore outfielder, is the Pirates' top returning hitter. He batted .372 last season and his 37 RBIs led the team. The All-WSC second-team selection also had a .496 on-base average and stole 15 bases.
Joining Cookson in the outfield will be sophomore Chris Ames, who batted .307 and stole seven bases last year. Cookson and Ames are Ventura's only returning starters.
The Pirates, in fact, may field a starting lineup of seven freshmen and two sophomores.
Oxnard will also field a predominantly freshmen lineup in George Peraza's first season as coach. Jerry White, coach at Oxnard for 10 seasons, resigned last summer, saying it was time to "smell the roses."
It will be a challenge for Peraza, an assistant under White at Oxnard and Moorpark colleges for 12 seasons, to get a sniff of the WSC title this season. Oxnard won five WSC division titles and made eight appearances in the conference playoffs under White, but recruiting is difficult for any new coach.
"Jerry was a great motivator and an inspirational type of individual," Peraza said. "I will have a real test."
White guided the Condors to a division title and a 27-15 record last season. College of the Canyons won the WSC title in a best-of-three series against Oxnard before Palomar eliminated the Condors from the Southern California Regional playoffs.
Peraza's first job will be to rebuild the Oxnard pitching staff, depleted by the loss of Vale Lopez and Don Schwarz.
The Condors have seven pitchers, including sophomore left-hander Blake Parker and right-hander Allen Kuz, but Peraza is concerned about the team's depth.
"Pitching is one of the areas that we're probably lacking," Peraza said. "We don't have a lot of pitchers, but hopefully we have some quality."
The Condors have a solid outfield, headed by freshman Gil Valencia, who batted .378 for Camarillo High last season, and John Swanson from Rio Mesa. The Condors lost center fielder Phil White, who batted .369 last season.
Oxnard also lost two of its top batters from last season in catcher Tim Laker, a .356 hitter who signed with the Montreal Expos after his freshman season, and first baseman Sean Luft (.355), who transferred to UC Santa Barbara.
Like Peraza, Coach Ron Stillwell of Moorpark College will have some rebuilding to do to improve on last season's 14-22 finish.
The Raiders, who will start six freshmen, have a solid infield with freshman Steve Sisco of Thousand Oaks High at second base and freshman shortstop Dan Smith of Newbury Park High. Both were All-Marmonte League players. Kris Kaelin, a 6-foot-5 left-handed hitter, is returning at first base.
Freshman pitchers Jeff Berman and Rob Teasdale of Newbury Park High and Willie Leighton of Fillmore join sophomores Paul Perce and Todd Gerbovaz, who injured his knee at the start of last season, on the mound this spring.