Advertisement

VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Still Buddy Buddy

Ramirez and Flores Left the Uncertainties at Northridge for the Possibilities at Fullerton

January 30, 1998|LON EUBANKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FULLERTON — They might not be as well-known as some of those television and movie buddy teams, but the "Benny & Mo" show has been a hit in college baseball the past two seasons.

Left-handed pitchers Benny Flores and Erasmo Ramirez each won 11 games last season for Cal State Northridge.

In the past two seasons there, they won a total of 43 games and lost only 11.

But when Northridge wasn't invited to the NCAA playoffs last season despite a 42-20-1 record and budget problems threatened the program, Flores and Ramirez--buddy team that they are--transferred to Cal State Fullerton.

One factor underscored the decision. They wanted to pitch as seniors for a team with a chance to reach the College World Series. The Titans have done that four times in the 1990s and won the national championship in 1995.

Ramirez and Flores, who will make their first appearance for Fullerton when the Titans open the season this weekend at home with a three-game series against California starting tonight at 7, say they're happy they made the decision they did.

"This is big league," said Ramirez, the Titans' opening-night starter. "It was like a culture shock at first coming here. When I was at Northridge, you'd go around campus and people barely even knew there was a baseball team. I walk around here with a Titan baseball T-shirt on, and it's like you're a celebrity."

They're also happy to be back home. Ramirez pitched in high school at Santa Ana Saddleback and Flores at Placentia El Dorado.

"It's been great to be able to eat my mom's cooking every night," Ramirez said. "And my parents and younger brothers will be able to see a lot more of our games."

Neither pitcher was recruited by Fullerton out of high school, but neither developed until his sophomore season at Northridge. That year they both added a sidearm delivery to go with their overhead motion at the suggestion of the Matador pitching coach at the time, Dan Cowgill.

"That turned our careers around," said Flores, who is scheduled to start the final game of the series on Sunday. "It gave us a whole new weapon."

After that, Ramirez went 14-1 with a 3.74 earned-run average in 1996, and Flores was 7-2 with three saves. Northridge came within one victory of reaching the College World Series that season. The Matadors ousted host Stanford in the NCAA West Regional, with Flores getting the victory, but were beaten by Florida State in the regional final.

The Matadors lost their affiliation with the Western Athletic Conference in baseball after it expanded to 12 teams the next season and were forced to compete as an independent for the 1997 season.

Ramirez and Flores, however, continued their winning ways. Ramirez was 11-5 with six victories coming against nationally ranked opponents, and Flores was 11-3 with a 3.15 ERA.

It was a big disappointment to Ramirez and Flores when they didn't have an opportunity to pitch in the playoffs.

"It was really tough for us to ask for our release from Northridge because the coaches there had been great to us," Ramirez said. "It was a matter of a lack of respect for baseball by the administration. They treated us like. . . ."

Said Flores: "Here there's none of that. You get that automatic respect that comes with the success of this program. It's been a good change for us. "

Flores says one of the differences at Fullerton is the pitching staff has more depth.

"I'm not going to have to pitch nearly as many innings as I did at Northridge," said Flores, whose total of 116 innings last season was the highest on the staff.

Titan Coach George Horton and his assistants have tried to assure both pitchers from the start that they are team leaders.

"The first day of practice we asked them to help lead the team in their stretches," Horton said. "That's usually something we give to the guys who have been in the program for a while, but we wanted them to know that we expect that kind of leadership from them this season. And they've been everything we thought they'd be from that standpoint."

Titan pitching coach Dave Serrano says he has been impressed with their work ethic as well as their pitching skills.

"Neither one of them is real gifted from a speed standpoint, but they've done it through hard work," Serrano said. "They've both become complete pitchers. They're tough and competitive, and they won't give in to hitters.

"They can both throw three or four different pitches for strikes. They're both the type of pitchers who send hitters back to the dugout feeling frustrated. They're never going to let hitters get set on any one pitch. And they both do a great job of holding runners on."

Ramirez and Flores sat out much of the summer, resting their arms.

But when Cowgill, their old Northridge pitching coach, called and asked for help for the summer AAU team he was helping coach, Ramirez and Flores signed on for the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan.

Each pitcher made three appearances in relief for the Mat-Su Miners of the Alaskan League in the tournament.

Ramirez picked up two saves and Flores had one, helping Mat-Su win the national championship.

Horton hopes the arrival of Ramirez and Flores can do the same for the Titans.

"I'm not sure where we'd be right now without them," Horton said.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|