Hoping to add a little more zip to his 85 m.p.h. fastball before turning professional, Mike Teron opted to pitch for Ventura College instead of signing with the Minnesota Twins out of Santa Clara High.
Teron was not the only Ventura pitcher to choose the Pirates over the pros. Left-handers Derron Spiller and Dean McMillin and right-hander Shane Espitia also were drafted by professional teams only to end up at Ventura.
Their decision to postpone the bush leagues has graced Ventura with a bushel of talent. Coach Gary Anglin has one of his best pitching staffs in 12 seasons with the Pirates.
"All four of these pitchers were drafted so they obviously have something the pros want," Anglin said. "This is the best staff we have had here by far."
The big question for Ventura, however, is whether a strong pitching staff can carry the Pirates to their first Western State Conference title in 15 years. Not even Anglin is ready to answer that yet.
"They had the talent when they came here and now they are getting the experience," Anglin said.
Few coaches in the WSC would argue that Anglin recruited three of the top high school pitchers in Ventura County in Spiller, McMillin and Teron. Espitia is the only sophomore on the staff.
Teron had a 7-1 record and a 2.24 earned-run average for Santa Clara last season. He turned down an $8,000 signing bonus from the Twins and several offers from four-year schools to play at Ventura.
"I knew Coach Anglin would teach me a lot about pitching because I had heard he was one of the best pitching coaches in Southern California," Teron said. "He has taught me a lot about the mechanics of pitching, and about location and using my legs to get more power on my pitches."
Teron's fastball was his best pitch in high school. At Ventura, he has learned to throw a slider and he is also working on a knuckleball.
Teron (2-2) was sick earlier this season and has started slowly on the mound but has contributed with his bat. Anglin usually includes him in the lineup as the designated-hitter or left fielder.
"I'm not pitching up to my ability yet this season," Teron said. "I came here because I wanted to work on my pitches before I go against better hitters in the pros and that's what I'm doing."
McMillin and Espitia are leading the Pirates' staff. McMillin, who is 4-3 this season, was 8-4 with a 2.62 ERA for Ventura High last season. He also had 115 strikeouts to lead the Channel League.
McMillin turned down an offer from the Kansas City Royals because he wanted to gain more experience.
Espitia was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers out of Ventura High, where he was selected the Channel League Player of the Year in 1987. Espitia (4-1) is pitching well again this season after winding up with a 5-8 record and a 4.71 ERA last season.
"Shane is our most experienced pitcher and he shows a little more maturity because he is a sophomore," Anglin said.
Espitia has felt no additional pressure as Ventura's only sophomore starter. He says the surplus of talent has brought the Ventura staff together.
"We all pull for each other," Espitia said. "So many good pitchers on the staff gives you confidence that if you have to come out then somebody else can come in and do the job."
Rich Mendez (3-1), a freshman left-hander from Santa Clara, has also made a strong impression on Anglin.
"Rich has been the biggest surprise for us," Anglin said. "He is throwing in the middle innings and closing games for us and he is just a scrappy, hard-working guy."
Ventura's crop of hard-throwing starters has not gone unnoticed. College of the Canyons Coach Len Mohney said that the Pirates' pitching staff makes Ventura one of the top teams in the WSC.
"I think they have some real live arms at Ventura," Mohney said. "Sometimes, a group of kids like that comes together on the same team and I'm sure that Gary is loving it. I wish I had a few of them."
Moorpark College Coach Ron Stillwell agrees that Ventura has the best staff in the WSC.
"Ventura certainly has the deepest staff in the conference," Stillwell said. "I think it's a little unusual that so many guys who were drafted by the pros ended up on the same staff."
Yet despite Ventura's pitching talent, Anglin said the Pirates need to improve if they are going to contend for the WSC title.
Said Anglin: "We need to determine who is going to be our closer and who our starters are."
Ventura's pitching was not as strong last year when the Pirates narrowly missed a playoff berth after losing both ends of a doubleheader to Bakersfield on the last day of the season.
"We just ran out of pitching," Anglin said.
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.
Anglin often wonders what kind of staff he would have had this year if Leger had played his sophomore season at Ventura.
Despite losing Leger, the Pirates' staff has kept Ventura atop the WSC standings throughout the season. Ventura (17-7, 5-2) is one of four teams tied for first place going into the second half of WSC play.