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Baseball Is in His Bloodlines : Like His Father, El Segundo's Zambarelli Is an All-Out Performer on the Diamond

April 15, 1993|CAP CAREY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Minutes before El Segundo High's baseball game at North Torrance last week, Eagle team captain Jim Zambarelli paced the dugout and tried to fire up his teammates.

"Let's make some noise in here, this isn't a golf course," Zambarelli said to no one in particular. "Come on now, this ain't no library. We can be loud here."

For the second baseman, playing baseball is serious business. He plays without batting gloves, base-running gloves and other equipment favored by many of today's players. He shoves his cap into his back pocket when he bats, and usually his uniform is covered with dirt after the first inning.

"(Zambarelli) is a real throwback to the old days, a real baseball player," El Segundo Coach John Stevenson said. "He's just a baseball player, he doesn't play any other sport. This is what he likes to do."

Zambarelli's dedication to the game shows in his statistics. One of only two starters back from last season's 27-3 team, the 5-foot-8 senior is batting .409 with three home runs, 15 runs batted in and seven stolen bases. His leadership has helped the Eagles to a 12-3 record, including a first-place mark of 7-0 in the Pioneer League.

Last week's game against North meant a lot to Zambarelli, even though the Saxons were 1-10-1 entering the league contest. Zambarelli's father, also named Jim, was a standout football and baseball player at North, graduating in 1974.

Stevenson remembers the elder Zambarelli well, although not always fondly.

"I hated him," Stevenson said. "He was one of those guys who could really tick you off. He was always trying to walk, or get hit by a pitch, or bunt, and when he got on first base you could not keep him there."

Zambarelli's father played baseball at North for Jim O'Brien, now the athletic director at Harbor College. Zambarelli was a member of North's last Southern Section championship team in 1974. O'Brien said the Zambarellis are comparable as athletes.

"He looks a lot like his father, but (the son is) a little bigger," O'Brien said. "They are very similar, both great guys to have on your team. Big Jim was a little better runner, but I think (the son is) a little better hitter."

Zambarelli said he learned how to play from O'Brien and his father, who started coaching him when he was 5.

"I learned their style of play, which is pretty much scrappy," Zambarelli said. "I worked at (baseball) all the time. It is all I have ever wanted to do."

Zambarelli's parents divorced when he was in junior high school, after which he lived with his mother and spent his freshman year at St. John Bosco High in Bellflower. He played on the varsity baseball team as a ninth-grader and helped the Braves to a league title.

As a sophomore, Zambarelli moved in with his father in the El Porto section of Manhattan Beach and transferred to El Segundo. He was a member of the Eagles' San Fernando Valley League championship teams the past two years.

This season, he hopes to add a fourth league title. El Segundo leads the Pioneer League by 1 1/2 games over West Torrance at the halfway point.

"Jim's a real leader, the team is very important to him," Stevenson said. "He's not interested as much in his own accomplishments as he is in team accomplishments. He likes to win and he plays as hard as it takes."

Playing on a relatively young team has caused Zambarelli to adjust his game. After being El Segundo's leadoff batter the past two seasons, he was moved to the No. 3 spot. He has also had to assume a bigger leadership role for the Eagles, who have only four seniors.

After a 1-3 start, El Segundo has won 11 games in a row.

"I knew we would be a good team," Zambarelli said. "I just had to get used to batting third. I was not used to moving runners along, I was used to being moved along. But now I am supposed to be the one who drives in runs."

Zambarelli has made the adjustment well. He leads the team in home runs and stolen bases.

"He gets (his baserunning instincts) from his dad," Stevenson said. "Jim knows that there are going to be days where you go zero for four at the plate and have a bad day, but you should never have a bad day baserunning. He definitely got that through his dad's guidance."

Zambarelli's father said watching his son play sometimes reminds him of when he was an outfielder at North.

"He's usually the dirtiest kid out on the field," the elder Zambarelli said, referring to his son's uniform. "That's the style of ball that I grew up playing."

Zambarelli said that if he is not offered a scholarship to a four-year college, he would like to play at Harbor, where O'Brien, the former Seahawk coach, is closely associated with the baseball program.

"I would take a special interest in him, though I take a special interest in all our players," O'Brien said. "I'm really involved with the academic ends now, making sure the (Harbor) players get in all the right classes.

"He will do very well at the junior college level. He'll get better and better as he continues to mature. He needs to work a little on defense and get a little more power."

Stevenson said the one thing Zambarelli needs to work on is to accept an occasional bad game.

"Like a lot of kids, he has a tough time accepting a bad performance," Stevenson said. "They want to do well all the time, but baseball is a negative game. You usually only get three hits out of 10 tries."

Despite being hard on himself, Zambarelli said he enjoys playing baseball at El Segundo, which has a rich tradition in the sport.

"There is a mystique here," he said. "Whenever we step on the field, we expect to win. The whole town loves baseball. At most schools, football is the big sport, but here it's baseball."

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