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Tunnel Vision

Baseball: Pepperdine's scenic views are wasted on left-hander Randy Wolf, whose favorite setting is the pitcher's mound.


MALIBU — High on a hill, Pepperdine overlooks the beaches Randy Wolf rarely visits and the Pacific Ocean he rarely notices.

Growing up in West Hills, Wolf often found himself at Pepperdine with his father, but the only place on that big hill he longed to be was atop a little mound.

"From the time I was 9 or 10, a Pepperdine baseball game was one of my favorite places," he said.

Now that mound is Wolf's. Stepping onto it transforms him from a playful college sophomore with a hair-trigger laugh into a combative, overpowering predator with a vicious bite to his two-seam fastball, slurve and circle change.

Behind the mound and beyond the outfield wall is an ocean view that oozes laid-back Southern California, symbolizing everything Wolf is not.

While fellow students prowl the Pacific Coast Highway at night, he lies in his room mentally dissecting mistakes he made the last time he stood on that mound.

"I think of every wrong thing that happened and make sure it doesn't happen again," he said. "When I wake up I can't wait to get to the bullpen to start over."

Wolf's approach is contagious. He lives in a dorm with four teammates, and they don't go to the beach either.

"Randy is competitive, determined and single-minded," said Josh Oder, a sophomore outfielder and the Waves' leading hitter. "He deserves everything he's gotten."

Such as posting a 4-2 record and a 1.96 earned-run average this season, including a no-hitter last week against Gonzaga.

Such as gaining an invitation to try out for the Olympic team after going 4-0 with a 1.90 ERA on Team USA last summer.

Such as being named freshman All-American after going 9-1 with a 2.16 ERA for Pepperdine last spring.

Such as winning back-to-back City Section player of the year honors after leading El Camino Real High to consecutive 4-A Division championships in 1993-94. Wolf was 23-4 with a 1.13 ERA in high school.

The accomplishments are strung together like scallops on a skewer. There are no gaps, no adjustment periods during which his performance has fallen off.

Wolf (6 feet, 185 pounds) has been dominant at every level and clearly hasn't reached his ceiling, which contradicts what many professional scouts believed two years ago. Wolf was devastated in '94 when he wasn't drafted until the 25th round (by the Dodgers) despite being listed as the 47th-best high school prospect by Baseball America.

The left-hander will be eligible for the draft again next year, and this time will be coveted.

"I see him being in the big leagues for quite a while,"

said John Verhoeven, Pepperdine's pitching coach and a former major leaguer. "Randy has the most-resilient arm I've ever seen and he is the best fielding pitcher I've ever seen."

Wolf can also hit. He often bats third in the Pepperdine lineup as a designated hitter, and lately has been playing right field when not pitching. He is a complete player who happens to pitch.

Although his shining statistics offer no clue, Wolf went through a period of adversity two years ago that began with the death of his father, James, of a heart attack at 56.

Two months later came his disappointment at not being drafted higher. Then, when he enrolled at Pepperdine, the coach who recruited him, Andy Lopez, left to become the Florida coach.

"We were like, 'Let's forget this year ever happened,' " said Judy Wolf, Randy's mother.

Wolf stuck it out at Pepperdine and developed strong relationships with Coach Pat Harrison and pitching coach Geoff Zahn. Verhoeven replaced Zahn, who became head coach at Michigan this season, and Wolf quickly warmed to Verhoeven as well.

"Randy is very stable," Harrison said. "I don't see him having many peaks and valleys. He is happy-go-lucky but has his moments when he considers things and takes stock. He is a very upbeat, well-balanced person."

Wolf's maturation since his father died March 27, 1994, can be chronicled like innings in a ballgame, nine frames that form a picture of his growth:

* April 14, 1994:

This Shot's for You

In his first game after his father's death, Wolf hit a home run near a flagpole where the flag fluttered at half-staff in honor of James Wolf. Rounding the bases, Randy glanced skyward.

He pitched a complete game and El Camino Real defeated Thousand Oaks, 14-7, to win the Thousand Oaks tournament.

"Today I just wanted to do it for Dad," he said after the game.

* May 19, 1994:

A Turning Point

With a photo of his father in his pocket and numerous scouts in the stands, Wolf had his worst high school outing, losing to Taft, 10-4. Afterward, he and his mother had a long talk.

"He felt he let Jim down," Judy said. "We talked about who he was pitching for. He hadn't pitched for his father or I when Jim was alive, so he shouldn't be trying to pitch for him now."

Wolf stopped carrying the photo and began to ease the pressure he put on himself.

"My mom was so incredibly strong it was unbelievable," he said. "I honestly don't know how I would have handled it without her."

* June 3, 1994:

Reality Check

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