FOUNTAIN VALLEY — That first home run this season was a real shocker to Deric Yanagisawa.
The ball cleared the fence and the Fountain Valley High School senior third baseman took off. He ran--no sprinted--around the bases, grinning from lobe-to-lobe. Clearly, this guy was a novice on home-run protocol.
It was left to junior Chris Ponchak to set him straight.
"He didn't do it right," Ponchak said. "I told him he's got to enjoy those things. But he just wasn't used to doing that."
Yanagisawa has grown accustomed to it. In fact, he's downright comfortable.
He has slowed down a bit, on his home-run trot that is, but there is no one who has found more enjoyment in the Barons' run to tonight's Southern Section Division I title game against Lakewood.
This is a guy who spent his entire junior season in a slump. It cost him the starting catching job and a few nights of sleep.
A year later, he was a guy Coach Ron LaRuffa just had to get in the lineup. A big change, but Yanagisawa made it happen.
"Some of it was maturity, but Deric worked awfully hard over the summer," LaRuffa said. "We needed his bat in there."
The bat has been there.
Yanagisawa is hitting .420 with six home runs and a school-record 35 runs batted in. He has hit two home runs and had four RBIs in four playoff games.
He has gone from hitting eighth to clean up. Not bad, considering he hit a measly .215 as a junior. The highlight last season was ending an 0-for-13 slump.
"I was afraid last season," Yanagisawa said. "I would concentrate on getting the bat on the ball, instead of concentrating on getting hits. I was scared I would strike out."
He has conquered those fears.
Yanagisawa spent the summer working, physically and mentally. He took extra batting practice and corrected a flaw in his swing.
As a result, he became an important part of the Fountain Valley team that won the Colt League World Series last summer. So impressive was his performance that finding a position for him became a priority.
The Barons already had senior Dan Hoppie, an All-Sunset League catcher. But they didn't have a third baseman.
"Coach knew I had played third in youth leagues," Yanagisawa said. "He asked me and I jumped at the chance."
It has been an adventure.
"It's been tough," Yanagisawa said. "The hard part was getting used to the reaction time. The ball gets to you quick. But I think I got the hang of it."
His on-the-job training has had high points and low points. But the benefits have certainly outweighed the gaffes. He has improved as fielder and his hitting can make up for the odd mistake.
"Deric will boot some balls, but he really works hard to get better," Ponchak said. "And having him at third means his bat is in the lineup. That's important."
Yanagisawa has not only played out of position, he has hit out of character. He had not hit a home run in his high school career until he unloaded against Artesia in the Loara tournament.
"I didn't know what it felt like," he said. "I didn't know how to react."
Said Hoppie: "He got pretty excited and just took off around the bases."
But practice makes perfect. Yanagisawa continued his power surge. He has 12 doubles to go along with six home runs.
"Deric found some pop in his bat somewhere," Hoppie said. "All of a sudden, he was hitting line drives all over the place. If we need a key hit, Deric will get it for us."
That's something he has proved, over and over. His bases-loaded single broke a scoreless tie against Diamond Bar in the championship game of the Loara tournament. He had two hits and two RBIs in the 15-0 victory. It was his first game as a clean-up hitter.
Against Huntington Beach, Yanagisawa had a three-run home run and five RBIs. The Barons won, 16-2, to clinch the league title.
"The way he he was hitting, it was inevitable we move him to clean up," LaRuffa said. "That can be the kiss of death sometimes. But he kept right on hitting and right on driving in runs."
Right on into the playoffs. In the second round against Esperanza, Yanagisawa hit a two-run homer in the sixth that was rather insignificant at the time. It gave the Barons an 8-0 lead. Then the Aztecs scored six runs in the bottom of the inning. Fountain Valley hung on for an 8-6 victory.
"He was there for us again," Hoppie said. "He also showed he has grown up a little. He's got a nice home run trot now."
LAKEWOOD VS. FOUNTAIN VALLEY
Division I Baseball
When: 7 tonight
Where: Blair Field, Long Beach
Records: Fountain Valley (26-3-1); Lakewood (24-6)
Starting pitchers: Luke Hudson (8-1); Luke Fitzpatrick (11-1).
Noteworthy: The top-seeded team has not won this division since Lakewood in 1970. Fountain Valley is the No. 1-seeded team. Lakewood is seeded second.