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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Sermon On The Mound

Suppan Hopes to Make Statement in Dodger Stadium Start Tonight

April 09, 1998|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jeff Suppan's preparation for his start tonight at Dodger Stadium began with a stare and quickly evolved into a clear vision he sustained with unfaltering faith for five years.

Crespi High had a lot to do with developing the vision and the faith, not to mention the pitching repertoire Suppan, 23, employs for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

It was on a senior class retreat in 1993 that the longtime altar boy learned to measure time without a clock, to instead chart his growth by connecting significant events in his life to his spirituality.

Event No. 1: Suppan was presented a citizenship award along with one student from every other Southland high school during a pregame ceremony at Dodger Stadium his senior year.

"While all the other kids were looking up into the stands, I was staring at the mound," Suppan said. "Then when I watched the game, I got nervous visualizing myself being out there. It was the first time I looked at major league players and thought, 'I can be one.' "

Event No. 2: Suppan rose rapidly through the Boston Red Sox farm system and made his major league debut July 17, 1995, in a start against the Kansas City Royals.

His parents made the trip from West Hills for the game and brought him something he promised Crespi classmates he would wear during his first big league game: A necklace bearing the symbol of Kairos, a Greek term and the name of the senior retreat for Celt seniors that remains important to Suppan.

The first batter Suppan faced, Keith Lockhart, hit a home run. The pitcher touched the necklace while Lockhart circled the bases and went on to perform well in a 4-3 loss.

Event No. 3: After Suppan bounced between the Red Sox and triple-A for three seasons, compiling a 9-6 big league record, he was the Diamondbacks' second pick in the expansion draft in November.

Diamondback Manager Buck Showalter placed great emphasis on the character and mental makeup of the players the team selected. He was ecstatic to land Suppan.

"We didn't think he'd be left unprotected," Showalter said. "We were pleasantly surprised."

Event No. 4 will take place tonight, when Suppan steps on the Dodger Stadium mound for the first time. He believes his butterflies will be quieter than during his first Diamondbacks' start Friday at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix.

"I went to only about 10 Dodger games the whole time I was a kid because I was always playing baseball during the summer," he said. "I have a lot of family and friends, 30 to 40, coming to the game, but I won't be nervous just because it's the Dodgers."

Suppan's start last week against the San Francisco Giants began with four shutout innings, but he gave up two runs in the fifth and three in the sixth in an 8-3 loss.

Most memorable for Suppan was hitting a single up the middle, his first major league hit and the first hit by a Diamondback pitcher.

As always, he had plenty of family support.

His father, Larry, brothers Mike and Dan, and his former Crespi teammate, Andy O'Donnell, drove to Phoenix for the game.

O'Donnell, a commercial pilot, usually flies. He saw Suppan pitch with the Red Sox in Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Boston. The National League tour has already begun.

O'Donnell will be flying to San Luis Obispo today to pick up another former Crespi teammate, Joe Turner.

"It's wheels up at 4 p.m. and we'll make it back in time for the first pitch," O'Donnell said.

Others are adjusting schedules as well. Crespi plays La Salle today in the St. Paul tournament, and Celt Coach Scott Muckey backed up game time to 2 p.m. so he and assistants Craig Felten, Dave Sehnem and Joe Testa can get to Dodger Stadium before the first pitch.

Suppan's sister, Karen, a teacher at Colina Intermediate School in Thousand Oaks, will be there. So will Linda Snow, mother of Suppan's catcher at Crespi, Casey Snow.

There will more friends than Suppan cares to count.

"I'd forgotten how many promises I made over the years to people that the first time I pitched at Dodger Stadium, I'd get them tickets," he said.

A short list of no-shows includes his mother, Kathy, who is visiting a sick friend in Trenton, N.J., his oldest brother, Larry, 38, who lives in Northern California, and Crespi campus minister Joe Fitzgerald.

"If it wasn't Holy Thursday, I'd be there," said Fitzgerald, who has never seen Suppan pitch but has witnessed his best stuff.

For three consecutive years beginning in 1994, Suppan, a devout Catholic, accompanied Crespi seniors on their retreat as an adult mentor. Kairos is defined as God's time, measured by events that produce spiritual growth, and is the opposite of Kronos, which is time measured conventionally.

Suppan's growth at a Kairos retreat was achieved by baring his soul to the group.

"I got a lot out of it when I was at Crespi, but going back isn't done for me, it's for the students," he said. "It's an awakening, a gut-wrenching time to open up and share. Everyone speaks from the heart and a lot of them come to realize what it means to be a Catholic."

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