Tom Moran, tongue planted firmly in cheek, says his relationship with Gregg Zaun is a love-hate one.
Moran loves Zaun. Zaun hates Moran.
Although both sides agree the above is an exaggerated assessment, the bond between Moran, the first-year baseball coach at St. Francis High, and Zaun, the Golden Knights' catcher and The Times' Glendale Player of the Year, was tested frequently this season.
"He would critique the coach quite often," Moran said with a laugh. "We would have team meetings and Gregg would come right out and say, 'I think we should have done this in this situation.' "
It would be tough to debate Zaun's situational savvy. At 18, the Golden Knight with the golden arm has seen more baseball than a lot of minor league players. In fact, Zaun spent a summer traveling with the Toledo Mud Hens, then the Minnesota Twins' triple-A team, and his uncle, Pat Dempsey.
Another uncle, Rick Dempsey, is a catcher for the Dodgers.
During his summer in the minors Zaun, then 15, spent much of his time warming up pitchers in the bullpen. Occasionally, he would catch Les Straker, who later pitched for the Twins.
"Straker was zipping it up there at 92, 93 miles per hour," said Zaun, who was a whopping 5-feet-3, 125 pounds at that time. "That was the best summer of my life."
From the outset, however, this baseball season was the spring of Zaun's discontent. A few weeks into the 1989 season, St. Francis was 2-4-1. Zaun and some teammates told Moran that they thought the coaching staff had taken a disciplinary stranglehold on the players.
"It was real tight," Zaun said. "A lot of the players were afraid to make mistakes because they didn't think they'd be in the lineup the next day."
Moran made some adjustments after the meeting and the Knights won six consecutive games and 10 of their last 13. St. Francis finished 12-8-1 overall and second in league play at 7-5.
"We didn't compromise our principles but we backed off a bit," Moran said. "And (Zaun) was right. We got on a roll and it turned things around."
Zaun practices the baseball he preaches. He batted .475, scored 24 runs and drove in 32. He also had eight doubles, nine steals and was selected Del Rey League Player of the Year. And Zaun, a three-year starter, didn't see many pitches at which to swing. Last season, he hit .480 and word of his prowess spread fast.
"You came into a game and people knew that Gregg was a player and they weren't going to pitch to him," Moran said. "You can't hide him, so the fact that he hit almost the same this year is even more remarkable."
Zaun was impressive enough to land a baseball scholarship offer from Texas, runner-up in the 1989 College World Series, and to be drafted in the 17th round by the Baltimore Orioles. He is still negotiating with the Orioles.
"I'm pretty honored to be drafted, period," Zaun said.