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Time of Their Lives : An Hour-by-Hour Countdown to the City Championship Game for Kennedy and Poly

May 30, 1996|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ and ROB FERNAS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Perhaps no other day is bigger in the life of a high school athlete than one involving a championship game.

For the baseball players at Kennedy and Poly highs, such a day came Wednesday, when they met for the City Section 4-A Division title at Dodger Stadium.

Through the day at both schools, players, coaches, administrators and students geared up for the night game. Elsewhere, relatives and friends did likewise.

Here is an account of their day:

4:15 a.m.--Poly Coach Chuck Schwal wakes up after barely four hours of sleep and works out for a half-hour on his climbing machine. "I had to get rid of some nervous energy," he says.

5:30 a.m.--Roger Eckert, one of Poly's most-ardent supporters, returns home from breakfast at a coffee shop and pastes newspaper clippings of the Parrots' 6-4 semifinal victory over Chatsworth into a scrapbook he plans to give the players at their awards banquet.

Eckert, 51, is a 1962 graduate of Poly, where he played on the baseball team for two seasons with former NBA star Gail Goodrich, a childhood friend. "We usually took second place [in league play]," Eckert says. "Now it's a different story. This team is just great."

6:30 a.m.--Poly drama instructor Bonnie Bryson puts on her "playoff dress," a blue flower-print garment that she has worn (without washing) on the days of each Parrot playoff game. Bryson has been one of the team's most-loyal fans, traveling to Las Vegas for a tournament and working in the school concession stand with her play-production students. "I'm a mom and a teacher all mixed together," she says of her role with the players, most of whom she taught in 10th-grade English. "They were all little pains in the neck back then. Now they're great young men."

6:30 a.m.--Fernando Centeno, the Ecuadorean-born right-fielder for Kennedy, is up and ready for game day. Centeno resides with a family friend in Granada Hills because his parents live in Ecuador.

But this morning Centeno has breakfast with his parents Cesar and Elsa, who are in town to watch their son play baseball for the first time in nearly two years. They saw him hit a double and a triple Tuesday in a 7-0 victory over El Camino Real in a semifinal game.

7 a.m.--Schwal visits his favorite bagel shop in Northridge, a daily ritual for the coach since Poly started a 16-game winning streak after losing to San Clemente on April 9 in the Birmingham tournament. Schwal sits in the same spot and orders his usual: two sun-dried tomato bagels, a coffee and a water.

7 a.m.--Coach Manny Alvarado is in his Kennedy office, going over the scouting report on Poly.

"The report is huge," he says. "The kids know you are doing your job [by being prepared]. That's real important."

Alvarado guided the Golden Cougars to the 4-A title in 1995 and says that he wants to repeat. He doesn't buy into the idea that just being to the championship game is a big-enough deal.

"We are going there to win," he says.

7:20 a.m.--Left-fielder Nick Intenzo arrives at Kennedy and gathers with about seven teammates to talk about the championship game.

Intenzo says they've followed the routine all season. But this time, he says, standing by the baseball field was difficult.

"I can't believe this is our last high school game together," Intenzo says. "But we are so pumped."

7:30 a.m.--Poly senior Steve Guerrero drinks his morning glass of milk and thinks about what it will be like to pitch in the biggest game of his life. "The spotlight is going to be on," he says.

8 a.m.--Schwal and assistant Jimmy Ikeda, both science teachers at Poly, combine their classes so they can formulate a

scouting report on Kennedy. Schwal knows the Golden Cougars better than most coaches, having served as Kennedy's pitching coach in 1989 and its junior varsity coach from 1990 to '92. Of Alvarado, Schwal says, "He's my mentor."

9:15 a.m.--Kennedy senior outfielder Jared Morris gets a few good-luck charms from classmates in his history class.

One girl gives him a note wishing him luck, another gives him a stick of chewing gum he can't unwrap until the game and one more presents him with a small ink drawing of a ladybug.

"She gave a drawing of a ladybug to one of the guys on the team last year and we won," Morris says.

12:10 p.m.--Kennedy holds a lunchtime pep rally in the gym.

While people file in, senior second baseman Mike Ramirez sits on the bleachers and has his hair braided by friend Stefanie Molina.

"I do this before every game," Ramirez says. "It's good luck. I'm a little superstitious, I guess."

12:25 p.m.--Designated hitter Christian Bartlett and girlfriend Elaine Pacheco, an outfielder on the school's softball team, stand together in the Kennedy gym during the pep rally.

"He's been antsy today," Pacheco says about Bartlett. "He's kind of nervous."

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