VENTURA — Baseball player Jason Kimble felt the first twinge of back pain near the end of his junior year at Buena High.
The pain slowly increased but Kimble continued to play all summer for his American Legion team. It wasn't until the Legion season ended, when he could barely bend over to pick up a baseball, that he decided to see a doctor.
The doctor diagnosed a sprained ligament in the lower back and advised a break from baseball--not the news Kimble wanted to hear heading into his senior season.
Kimble (5-11, 190 pounds) missed the winter season, spending most of his time in the weight room rehabilitating his back.
"I was looking to have a good senior year before the injury," Kimble said.
"But after not playing over the winter, I didn't have the confidence. I was so ready to play, I just wasn't sure how well I'd do."
With the extra bulk, Kimble increased his power.
He raised his batting average to .481, 75 points above 1993, hit four home runs compared to one the year before and drove in 37 runs, fourth highest in the region.
The two months spent in the weight room transformed Kimble from a solid regular for the Bulldogs to one of the top hitters in the area.
He was named Channel League player of the year and tri-player of the year in Ventura County along with Ryan Hankins of Simi Valley and Jeff Bennett of Newbury Park.
Kimble, 17, will be one of 17 seniors from the Channel League playing seniors from the Marmonte League in the Ventura Country all-star large-schools baseball game at Moorpark College today at 1:30 p.m.
Buena Coach Stan Hedegard has each of his Bulldog players list personal goals before the start of the season. Because of the injury and subsequent layoff, Kimble hesitated to list goals above his 1993 totals.
Besides, his last memories of organized baseball were colored by pain.
Late in the Legion season, when Ventura played in the Area 6 playoffs at UCLA, Kimble needed treatment from a heating pad just to survive the four-hour round trip drive each day of the three-day tournament. Once he got on the field, he could barely bend.
"I wanted to play down there so badly, I tried to play through it," Kimble said. "It didn't help that we played at night and it got so cold out there, my back would just tighten up all of the next day."
But when Kimble was cleared to play in February, he noticed an immediate difference in his hitting stroke.
Kimble had always been a line-drive hitter, but suddenly he was hitting for distance.
Early in the season, Kimble tested his power against some of the top pitchers in the area, including Jim DeBiase of Chatsworth and Keith Smith of Newbury Park.
Getting hits off those quality pitchers gave Kimble the confidence boost he needed.
"I was hitting the ball well and realized I had a chance against anybody," he said.
Hedegard inserted Kimble into the No. 3 spot in the lineup. He helped Buena to a 15-10 record, second place in the Channel League and the second round of the Southern Section Division II playoffs.
"I wanted the goals we set to be attainable, but he just blew them away," Hedegard said. "It got to the point where I trusted him so much to get the big hit that if we had men on base, and he popped out, I'd get (teed) off."
During the league season, Kimble gave little cause for anger.
He put together a 17-game hitting streak and three of his homers came in league games, including a grand slam against Dos Pueblos.
Kimble had had "one of my worst games ever," when the Bulldogs lost to Dos Pueblos, 8-5, in the teams' first meeting of the season.
When the teams met for the second time, Buena had just suffered a blowout loss to Rio Mesa, 13-3, in the midst of a tight playoff race.
Against Dos Pueblos, Buena fell behind, 4-0, and Kimble saw the team's chances at the playoffs fading fast.
But with one swing Kimble tied the score, and the Bulldogs went on to win the rematch, 7-5.
Kimble not only helped defeat Dos Pueblos, he transformed the meaning of a nickname. Teammates had begun calling him 'DP' after his miserable performance in the first game against the Chargers.
After the homer in the second game, they still called him 'DP,' but this time in admiration.
Kimble likely will join several former teammates at Ventura College, but is still considering financial aid options at Nevada and UC Santa Barbara.
If Kimble plays at Ventura, he expects to stay at first base, but if he attends to a Division I school, he will consider switching to the outfield because of his small stature for a first baseman. Hedegard doesn't think that will be necessary.
"I think his size shouldn't keep him away from first base at the college level," he said. "He reminds me a little of Mike Mitchell a little bit, and he had a monster year his senior year in high school."
Mitchell graduated from Rio Mesa in 1991, played first base at UCLA, and signed a with the New York Yankees after he was selected in the ninth round last week in major league baseball's amateur draft.
But Kimble isn't concerned about what might occur three or four years down the line.
Today, he's interested in proving himself against players from Marmonte League teams Simi Valley and Newbury Park. Buena lost to the Pioneers, 13-7, and to Newbury Park, 7-0.
"Both of those teams kicked our butts," Kimble said. "It would be great to end my high school career by proving I deserve that award."