It's nearly baseball season--Little League, that is. What child hasn't fantasized about smacking a home run or zinging a pitch over home plate?
But if the pitching arm is a little wild or the hits a little weak, and your youngster yearns to strengthen his game, you might turn to Tom Levasseur, a baseball player in the San Diego Padres' minor league system.
Levasseur of Ventura gives private baseball lessons to children, mostly Little Leaguers, some of whom dream of playing professional baseball.
Ten-year-old Chris Ohlsen is one such youngster. A recent Saturday morning found Chris taking a lesson from Levasseur at Ventura High School. The boy's father, Jim Ohlsen, who coaches Little League in Ventura, sat on the sidelines.
Chris, who pitches and plays first base on his Little League team, hopes Levasseur can improve his pitching. Chris and Levasseur threw a zillion balls back and forth that morning. One narrowly missed its mark.
"Now what's going on here?" Levasseur asked as he threw back the ball.
"I'm letting go too far back," Chris answered.
"Then you need to make an adjustment," Levasseur said. "Make it easy so you can pitch all day."
"I'm trying to make him be his own coach so that when something breaks down, he will know how to correct it," Levasseur said. During the lesson he painstakingly took apart the youth's pitching technique and taught him how to follow through better.
Chris, who has played Little League five years for the Montalvo district in Ventura, also plays soccer and other sports, all of them pretty well. But baseball is his first love.
"He started pitching seriously last year and he showed a lot of potential," Jim Ohlsen said. "We're out here trying to get some professional guidance for the season."
The goal for Chris is to play baseball through high school and earn a baseball scholarship for college. That's the route Levasseur, 26, took.
One of 10 children, Levasseur played Little League and later played ball for Santa Paula High School, where he graduated in 1982. He played two years at Ventura College before he received a baseball scholarship and enrolled at San Diego State University. In 1986, he was drafted by the Padres.
He worked his way up through the minors and now plays shortstop for the Las Vegas Stars, a AAA team. His goal is to get onto one of the 26 major league teams.
"I'm knocking on the door," he said.
He plays baseball from April through September. During his tenure with the Padres he received a degree from San Diego State in recreational management. He also served three years as program director for the San Diego School of Baseball, the nation's largest baseball school for young players.
"I wanted to come home and start my own program," said Levasseur, who returned to Ventura County this year and formed Youth Instructional Clinics. In addition to private lessons, he and several other local professional ballplayers run clinics for Little League teams.
Levasseur offers three half-hour lessons at a cost of $89 for youths aged 8 to 18. He concentrates on the fundamentals. "This is when they should be getting the basics down," he said.
Children, he said, have the most trouble with concentration. He has a tip for players: "Try to put yourself in a positive frame of mind. Don't say 'I have got to get a hit. Say I'm going to get a hit.' "
Even if he makes it to the major leagues, he said he intends to continue teaching. "This is what I know--baseball and instruction."
Other goings-on for children:
* The Mermaid Theater of Canada will present "Peter and the Wolf," an adaptation of Prokofiev's musical tale, using puppets, at 12:30 p.m., Feb. 14, at Buena High School in Ventura. Advance tickets are $3.50 for children and $5.50 for adults, $1 more at the door.
* The Ventura Department of Parks and Recreation and Island Packers are offering two whale-watching trips for families. A three-hour trip in the Santa Barbara Channel is scheduled Feb. 24 for children 3 years and older and their families. The cost is $20. A second three-hour trip for children of all ages is planned March 10 to Anacapa Island. The cost is $28. Call 658-4726 for information and reservations.
Professional baseball player Tom Levasseur offers private instruction for youngsters. For lessons, call 653-0713.