It's no grand revelation. But Tom Ecklund has confirmed that leading a team to the Southern Section 1-A Division title is far more rewarding than just trying to field a team.
Four players on his Fillmore High team were suspended from school last week for taking part in a student protest over a proposal to go to a year-round school schedule. The team's best player, Anthony Chessani, was suspended for the season after breaking a team rule. There have been a couple of injuries, to boot, and Ecklund had to play an outfielder at second base in a game Tuesday.
The unsettled situation is a far cry from the championship team and 21-2 record of last season.
"It's been such a hectic year already," Ecklund bemoaned. "Every day something else happens. It's gotten so when I see a school administrator walking toward me, I wonder what's next. It has taken the fun out of coaching."
Unrest at Fillmore may have put the fun back in the Tri-Valley League race, however. Moorpark has returned almost its entire team, St. Bonaventure has strong pitching and hitting and Oak Park might have the best player in the league. Carpinteria is solid. Only Bishop Diego should provide a breather.
But all have set their sites on unseating the Flashes.
"This is a very strong and very balanced league," St. Bonaventure Coach Dennis Johnson said.
A look at each team:
Fillmore: Despite their problems--which include blowing a three-run lead and losing, 7-6, to Oak Park in a league opener--the Flashes have to be considered the favorite. Fillmore is 4-2 overall, 1-1 in league play.
"The entire starting lineup has banded together and is developing the winning attitude we are trying to get across," Ecklund said.
Senior right-handers Billy Alonzo and Brad Edmonds have given the team a reliable starting rotation. When not pitching, Alonzo plays right field and Edmonds plays shortstop.
Junior catcher Mike Kosar is one of the team's most improved players, according to Ecklund, and first baseman Roy Maus has made an impressive recovery from a shoulder injury. Chad Van Winkle, a junior, has made a smooth transition from shortstop to third base. Left fielder Robbie Ibarra and center fielder Tony Cervantez have played well.
Still, there are question marks. Second baseman George Frias is out for two weeks with an ankle injury--which forced Olonzo to play second Tuesday. A third pitcher to fill the void left by Chessani has yet to be found.
"The league is up for grabs," Ecklund admitted. "But it sure will be sweet if we rebound to win it."
Moorpark: Kelly Kira, an all-league center fielder, has graduated. But every other Musketeer--starter and reserve alike--is back, and they are motivated.
"The kids were coming up to me in September saying they couldn't wait for baseball to start," said third-year Coach Mario Porto, whose team was 8-11 overall and 4-8 in league play last year. "Last year, we were better than our record and I think some of the guys were disappointed in themselves.
"So far, we've been playing real well."
The improvement is obvious. Moorpark is 6-1 and has won both league games so far.
Robert Hernandez, a junior right-hander in his third varsity season, is 3-0 with two saves. Senior right-hander Keith Orford gives Porto a second solid starter.
Like Hernandez, shortstop Frank Fernandez is a junior in his third season. In fact, although the team is experienced, only three starters are seniors. Orford plays outfield when not pitching, senior Scott Semer is the center fielder and senior Jamie Cohls is the catcher.
Other juniors in the lineup are second baseman Mike Zamrock and third baseman Tom Uphoff. Zamrock, who led the team in innings pitched last season, is recovering from an elbow injury that has cut into his mound duty this season.
"As soon as he's 100%, he'll be our closer out of the bullpen," Porto said. "That'll be a real plus."
St. Bonaventure: The Seraphs also have a strong one-two pitching combination in right-handers Kevin Zoll and Chris Castro.
"They've been very good," said Coach Dennis Johnson, who in his first year led St. Bonaventure to a 14-8 record last season. "We're strong on the mound, at catcher and in the outfield."
Chris Gaston, a senior who is batting .375, might be the league's best catcher. Wayne McPhail, Mark Masterson and Chris Borchard form an outfield of .300 hitters.
The only question mark for St. Bonaventure, which is 2-2 in league play and 6-3 overall, has been infield play.
"We've made far too many infield errors, both throwing and fielding," Johnson said. The Seraphs are improving--they've made no errors in their last two league games.
Oak Park: The Eagles like their chances when 6-foot-5, 245-pound Scott Ziegler is on the mound. "He's a big guy with a lot of talent," Coach Ron Veres said.
Ziegler, who plays first base when not pitching, was an all-league selection last season.
Oak Park opened league play by defeating Fillmore and the Eagles beat Carpinteria on Tuesday. They play Moorpark on Friday in a game that will be telling of the league race.
Shortstop Todd Creason and third baseman Gary Silverman give Oak Park experience in the infield to go along with Ziegler. Mike Benjamin and Gary Silverman split time at catcher, and when Silverman catches, Scott Gibbons plays third.