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Command Performance

Sizemore Leads Thousand Oaks' Turnaround With No-Nonsense Style

April 17, 1998|TRIS WYKES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — Bill Sizemore teaches pitchers the art of deception with a baseball.

But when it comes to his opinions, Sizemore, Thousand Oaks High's third-year baseball coach, hurls nothing but straight fastballs. That they're sometimes perceived as high and tight is not his concern.

"He calls a spade a spade," Hart Coach Bud Murray said. "What you see is what you get with Bill, and that can sometimes get you in trouble."

Sizemore's blunt honesty caused problems in his first two seasons with the Lancers. Appointed Thousand Oaks' interim coach 10 days before the start of the 1996 season, he was criticized after guiding the defending Marmonte League champions to third place.

Before last season, Ryan Cope, the team's best player, clashed with Sizemore and transferred to cross-town rival Westlake. When the Lancers finished 3-11 in league play, players and parents voiced their discontent.

But winning cures most ills, and this season few teams in the region have won more games than Thousand Oaks. The Lancers enter today's league showdown against visiting Westlake with a 13-3-1 overall record, 4-0-1 in league play.

Asked to explain the turnaround, Sizemore chuckled.

"It's funny, you start winning and everyone wants to know what you've changed," he said. "I haven't changed anything. I still expect and demand the same things. And they're all things about how to play this game properly."

Sizemore, 42, has been around baseball his entire life. He played at Ridgecrest Burroughs High, graduating in 1973, and he helped Cal State Stanislaus win two NCAA Division III championships.

A five-year stint as the coach at Ridgecrest Burroughs preceded a move to the Santa Clarita Valley, where for more than 10 years he taught at a junior high and was at various times an assistant coach at Canyon, Saugus and Hart.

Sizemore will spend the summer, as he has previously, as pitching coach with the Florida Marlins' single-A team in the New York-Penn League. He also has worked for the Seattle Mariners as a scout and in player development.

Hired on a temporary basis in January 1996 to succeed 22-year coach Jim Hansen at Thousand Oaks, Sizemore had less than two weeks to pick his players.

"I just jumped on the horse and rode it," said Sizemore, a junior high guidance counselor in Thousand Oaks. "At that point, change was not the appropriate thing to do."

The changes came a year later and included Sizemore's mandate that the best players would play, regardless of their age. It did not sit well with older players.

Shortstop Billy Lockin was promoted to the varsity as a freshman last year but said he never felt part of the team.

"All [the older players] did last year was complain about coach and everything else," Lockin said. "They couldn't put anything together."

Parents alleged that Sizemore used obscene language and threw dugout tantrums. Tension increased because of his frank comments to reporters after blowout losses and with his refusal to give college recommendations to players he felt could not play at that level.

In July, Cope, playing for a Westlake American Legion team, was hospitalized after being beaned in a game against his former teammates. Sizemore denied that he had pitcher Tracy Goebel throw at Cope.

"It was a difficult year," Sizemore said. "People don't like change, whether it's good or bad."

Sizemore looks like a genius these days with a young, fundamentally sound team that features the region's deepest pitching staff.

The Lancers start four seniors, three juniors and two sophomores. Their top pitchers are junior Matt Rogers and sophomores Goebel and Chris Cordeiro, who have allowed a combined 32 hits and 14 earned runs in 77 innings.

A year-round strength and conditioning program has improved the team's power, and Sizemore switched the positions of several players to better utilize their talents.

More than anything, insiders say, the Lancers' breakout season is a result of Sizemore teaching and his players learning.

"I think he's an excellent coach," said Westlake Coach Chuck Berrington, the Thousand Oaks junior varsity coach from 1992-94. "It takes a strong will to coach [in Thousand Oaks] and you can't let things get to you. It's a high-income area and you have to lay your laws down with the kids and drive them a little harder."

Sizemore demands hard work, a commitment to the team and an understanding that he is in charge. Winning, he says, follows.

"I think the biggest adjustment the kids have made this year is they've figured out I'm not the enemy," he said. "They know what I want and the reason I want it is to make them better."

Perhaps Sizemore's best testimonial comes from Bill Hirsh, a self-described "former disgruntled parent" whose son was a pitcher for the Lancers in 1996.

"Now that I've seen how players are treated in college and in the pros, I think a good dose of reality in high school might not be the worst thing for them," Hirsh said. "The [former] players [Sizemore] said would go on and play did, and the ones he said wouldn't have not."

Lockin, who is batting .340, was a believer from his first meeting with Sizemore.

"I met him for five minutes and he taught me more than any other coach had taught me," Lockin said. "I knew right then it was going to be a great high school experience."

Berrington and others around the league believe Sizemore has mellowed this season, but the Lancer coach still makes little effort to sugarcoat his thoughts.

"You're always going to have your detractors but that's not going to change the way I do things," he said. "It's determined if coaches are successful by whether they get kids to the next level. But it's not just the next level of baseball, it's the next level of life.

"Sometimes lessons are hard."

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