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Coleman's Speed Impresses Another Swift Ballplayer : Baseball: Bo Jackson does some voluntary scouting, then sends the findings to his former college coach. As a result, the St. Bernard star receives a scholarship to Auburn.

April 26, 1990|STUART MATTHEWS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The scouting report on John Coleman crossed the desk of Auburn University's Hal Baird in November.

It read:

* Coleman is a good hitter, but is a free swinger at the plate; needs more discipline.

* Has extreme quickness; creates havoc on the base paths.

* Gets a good jump on the ball in the outfield, covers the ground to both alleys.

* Has an adequate arm, but isn't fundamentally sound in every category.

The report was signed by Bo Jackson.

Jackson had been wintering in Marina del Rey during a hiatus from the shoe commercials and the football and baseball that normally occupy his time when Baird--his former coach at Auburn--called and asked for a favor.

Baird wondered if Jackson could have a look at Coleman, a prep standout at St. Bernard High School in nearby Playa del Rey. Coleman had contacted Baird earlier that fall expressing interest in attending Bo's alma mater.

Jackson went to Cal State Dominguez Hills, watched Coleman play for a Los Angeles Dodgers scout team, then made his recommendations to the university.

When Baird got the report, he called Bob Yarnall, the baseball coach at St. Bernard, to make sure the information was accurate.

Apparently, Bo knows John Coleman.

"Coach Baird read me the report over the phone," Yarnall recalled. "And it suited John to a 'T.' Everything in that report was 100% right."

Yarnall told Baird that he thought Jackson might have a future in scouting when his multisport career comes to an end.

Baird replied: "Coach, I don't think there's anything Bo can't do."

Coleman, meanwhile, is still learning, but the senior center fielder has enough raw tools that Baird offered him a scholarship, based on Bo's report.

Coleman visited Auburn in February, and last week signed a national letter of intent to attend the Alabama school. The Tigers won the Southeastern Conference baseball championship a year ago, but Baird has found his team lacking in speed on the base paths recently.

And speed is something Coleman has in quantity.

Coleman has reportedly been timed for the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, but has never run track in his life. He uses the base paths as his showcase, legging bunts into singles, stretching singles into doubles, and line drives into triples.

He also turns opposing pitchers into head cases on the mound. Coleman leads the South Bay in stolen bases this season with 25, five ahead of Hawthorne's Armando Fernandez.

"Usually I just get a big lead and wait the pitcher out," Coleman said. "He'll usually throw over to first a few times, and then he'll relax a little bit and not think about me as much.

"That's when I go."

In his two-year varsity career, Coleman has yet to be caught stealing in 45 attempts.

"John creates a great amount of turmoil for the other team when he gets on base and runs wild," Yarnall said. "He's so quick that he gets to top speed within a step or two.

"He doesn't hesitate. When there's a chance to steal, or move up on a passed ball or an overthrow, he's up and gone."

St. Anthony left-hander Eric Mooney found that out the hard way recently. In the fourth inning of St. Bernard's 10-2 victory, Coleman reached second on an error, then stole third.

On the next pitch, Coleman darted home, easily beating Mooney's fastball and catcher John Guglielmotta's tag at the plate.

It was Coleman's second steal of home this season. The first came against Bosco Tech.

"I was pretty much up at top speed," Coleman said. "But at times like that, I try to push myself to go a little bit faster."

Camino Real League opponents would have a tough time believing that Coleman could move any faster. For two years, the Viking leadoff man has been a pest, setting the table for St. Bernard's big guns.

This season, that means that third baseman Jeff Richardson (.467 batting average), second baseman Sean Dunbar (.444), shortstop Grant Hohman (.379) and catcher Sean Friedin (.364) are getting plenty of chances to drive in runs.

Last season, Coleman had 11 bunt singles and batted .347. His average has dipped to .320 this year, but he's hitting .333 with runners in scoring position. He has reached base an amazing 67% of the time, and has scored 20 runs.

"Since I'm the leadoff hitter, the team expects me to get on," Coleman said. "Whether I get hit by a pitch, or just put the ball in play and run as fast as I can, I've got to get on so the other guys can bring me around. And they usually do."

Coleman's toughness also comes in handy. He draws a lot of pickoff throws, so he spends a good part of most afternoons on his belly, diving back to his base.

"He's a tough kid," said Pete Elash, a St. Bernard assistant coach. "He'll take his lumps. In the batter's box, he's not afraid to get hit by a pitch to get on base. He'll take a (bruise) for his team."

Coleman is also a positive force in the dugout.

"Sometimes John can get a little moody, but that's not rare for a kid his age," Yarnall said. "Most of the time, our guys look up to him for inspiration and leadership. They believe in him."

So does Bo, and Bo should know.

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