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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Ferrero's Talent Is One for the Ages

April 15, 1998|ERIC SONDHEIMER

To fully appreciate how hard 14-year-old Elena Ferrero throws a softball, it's best to go back in time to when she was in sixth grade.

"There was this old friend I had," Ferrero recalled. "She was trying to catch me. Everyone was telling her how good she was doing. At the end, I saw her go off to the corner. She took off her glove and the whole palm of her hand was bruised. I felt so bad."

Christina Enea, a freshman catcher at El Camino Real High, remembers her first experience catching a 12-year-old Ferrero.

"I didn't think at that age anyone could throw the ball so hard," Enea said.

Ferrero's velocity keeps rising, requiring catchers to wear a palm guard or sponge in their glove to avoid receiving a Ferrero tattoo.

The good news for high school hitters is that Ferrero is an eighth-grader at Harvard-Westlake Middle School. The bad news is that by next spring, when she makes her high school debut, there's no telling how dominant a pitcher she will be.

"She's probably the top 14-and-under pitcher in the country," said Bob Vanderberg, a former pitching coach at Cal State Northridge who tutors Ferrero. "She's got speed, hits spots and her ball moves."

Ferrero's pitches have been clocked as fast as 61 mph. Top college pitchers throw in the 65 mph range.

"She'll be right there with the best of them at the college level if she keeps improving," Vanderberg said.

Ferrero pitched the Stealth club team to an American Softball Assn. national championship in 1996 for 12-and-under. She's a member of the Panthers Gold 14-and-under club team that is ranked No. 1 nationally.

She has been playing softball since she was 10, but sports has been part of her life seemingly forever. That's what happens when your father is Chuck Ferrero, the Valley College athletic director and former football coach. Her twin brothers, 12-year-olds Nick and Mike, play football and baseball.

"They grew up on the sidelines," Chuck said.

The twins cheer loudly for their older sister at games, but when they're together, arguing usually breaks out. Elena is 5 feet 6; the brothers are 5-4 and growing fast.

"If they [the twins] get feisty, she turns on them and they know they got trouble," Chuck said.

Said Nick: "One-on-one, she'll kick our butt. But we can take her together."

Elena is so committed to softball that even on her two-week spring break, she was practicing. Asked when she last had a weekend off, Ferrero didn't have an answer. She plays games every Saturday and practices the rest of the week.

She has traveled to Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Washington and Oklahoma for club games. Besides pitching, she's also an outstanding shortstop.

"I'm not the kind of person who likes to sit around," she said. "I always have to be doing something. I don't like sitting and watching TV all day."

She has seven pitches in her repertoire--riseball, curve, drop, fastball, change, screwball and drop curve.

"I don't like it when someone gets a hit," she said.

She realizes she can't be perfect every game, but it doesn't stop her from trying. How good is she?

What other pitcher can tell a reporter with a straight face, "I think I haven't walked anybody in a few weeks."

The region has produced its share of elite softball pitchers in recent years, from Nancy Evans (Hoover, Arizona) to Sara Griffin (Simi Valley, Michigan) to Jamie Gillies (Saugus, Michigan).

One day, Ferrero is going to join them.

Her tougher task will be keeping her twin brothers in line.

"It's getting a little harder because they're getting real big," Elena said.

But they'll probably never hit her fastball, just like most boys or girls.

*

Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422.

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