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His Own Man : Jaret Wright Is Proud to Be Clyde's Son but Ready to Establish a Separate Identity

May 14, 1994|JASON H. REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Jaret Wright wiped the sweat from his brow, stood upright and inhaled the deepest breath of his young life as the firing squad took aim last August in San Diego.

The setting was the annual Area Code Games, an event designed to help professional scouts and college recruiters in their search for young baseball talent. Wright was an especially hot item during the four-day window-shopping extravaganza in which the top players in the class of 1994 showcased their stuff.

Talent evaluators raised their radar guns in unison each time the Katella High pitcher prepared to throw. And like any good salesman, Wright continually made the right pitch.

He dazzled the crowd at San Diego State's Smith Field and forced the baseball experts--men not easily wowed--to do double takes at their speed guns' numbers.

In fact, Wright unleashed a crackling fastball that traveled consistently at 94 m.p.h. So impressive was Wright that many of the guys with the guns believe he might head the class of high school pitchers selected in the June amateur draft.

Just the way he planned it. Ah, well, sort of anyway.

"I was so nervous," Wright said. "I've never been in a situation like that before--tons of scouts, tons of coaches and your destiny in your own hands.

"There must have been 30 or 40 scouts behind the plate watching me. It was like a must-win situation, and walking away knowing you did your job is a great feeling."

The son of former Angel pitcher Clyde Wright, Jaret possesses tools that might help him become a pitching force in his own right. He hopes his blazing fastball will help him light a path out from behind his father's long shadow.

Word of Wright traveled as swiftly as one of his pitches.

"Jaret is one of the best pitchers in high school this year," said Joe Ingalls, an area scout for the Chicago White Sox. "He throws real hard, and not many kids throw hard these days."

Longtime Esperanza Coach Mike Curran believes Wright has as much raw talent as any high school pitcher he has seen.

"I don't remember anybody who threw as hard as he does with the curveball that he's got," Curran said. "And none of the other guys were the athlete he is."

Based in large part on his smashing audition in San Diego, and because of the praise of those who witnessed the performance, Baseball America ranks Wright as the fourth-best high school prospect in the nation. Agents, recruiters and scouts have the Wrights' home phone number on speed-dial lists.

It seems that everyone wants a piece of the action. Even Sports Illustrated came calling.

Jaret was pictured in the magazine's "Faces in the Crowd" section May 2. He was all smiles of course, just the expression one would expect from someone who at 18 seemingly has the world hanging on every flick of his wrist.

"When that Sports Illustrated came out, it was really kind of amazing," Wright said. "I mean, this is a national magazine that you're in as high school player.

"I've been looking at that thing for so long, so it's strange actually thinking you're now in one."

Along the path to celebrity, Wright has been the focus of good-natured barbs from coaches and teammates.

"When the Sports Illustrated thing came out, Coach (Tim McMenamin) said, 'He's big-time now,' " Wright said. "My buddies say stuff like, 'Can I have your autograph?'

"But it's all been playful. Everybody has a good time with it."

Such scrutiny and time demands can be taxing for most families. For the Wrights, however, it's commonplace.

"This is not unusual around here," said Vicki Wright, mother of five children. "It's really nice that this is happening with Jaret because I'm so used to dealing with this with Clyde."

Clyde is one of the Angels' all-time pitching leaders.

He signed with the Angels in 1965 and reached the big leagues a season later. Clyde pitched for the Angels until 1973, and is fifth on the club in career victories (87).

Clyde had his best season in 1970, finishing 22-12 with a 2.83 earned-run average. He is one of only five Angel 20-game winners, joining Nolan Ryan, who accomplished the feat twice, Dean Chance, Andy Messersmith and Bill Singer.

He pitched for Milwaukee in 1974, Texas the next season and in Japan for three seasons (1976-78) before retiring with a major league record of 100-111 and a 3.50 ERA. Clyde works for the Angels in community relations and runs a pitching school in Anaheim.

Clyde and Jaret are a father-and-son no-hitter tandem--albeit their feat is separated by more than two decades and several levels of baseball.

As an Angel in 1970, Clyde no-hit Oakland in a 4-0 victory. Jaret no-hit Laguna Hills in a 7-1 victory March 6.

Watching his son's development brings to mind fond memories.

"I don't think he realizes exactly where he's sitting," Clyde said. "He's got good mechanics and he throws pretty darn hard. That's something a lot of people are looking for."

Funny thing is, though, Jaret wasn't sure he had it in him.

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