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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Morefield Was Only Slightly Off His Target

June 10, 1998|MICHAEL LAZARUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHATSWORTH — When Tom Morefield watched the 1994 City Section 4-A Division final from the Dodger Stadium stands as an eighth-grader, he envisioned his place on the field--pitching for Chatsworth High with the title on the line.

After two frustrating seasons that ended one game short of his goal, Morefield will finally get his chance Thursday night when the Chancellors play El Camino Real in the 4-A final at Dodger Stadium.

Just one difference. Morefield will be about 300 feet away from the spot of his dreams. He'll be playing center field, not pitching.

Morefield made the Chatsworth varsity as a sophomore in 1996 with a reputation for having a strong arm. He'll leave this week as perhaps the most feared slugger in a lineup of power hitters.

Morefield is batting .462 and leads Chatsworth with 11 home runs, 46 runs batted in and a .945 slugging percentage.

He has signed with Cal State Northridge and he's as likely as anyone to hit one out of Dodger Stadium when Chatsworth (29-3) plays El Camino Real (18-9) for the fourth time this season.

Morefield may be overdue. He hasn't hit a home run since the final regular-season game, almost three weeks ago.

"I'm not going to go out going for [the home run]," Morefield said. "I'm going to swing like I normally do. But it would be great for it to happen."

At 6 feet 2 and 185 pounds, Morefield fits the power-hitter mold, and his transformation has been remarkable. As a freshman, he was a .280-hitting shortstop for the junior varsity.

"I couldn't stay at shortstop," Morefield said. "I made too many errors."

As a sophomore, his ability to throw consistently in the mid-80s caught the attention of Coach Tom Meusborn, who needed to replace his entire pitching staff from the previous season.

There was just one problem.

"I could throw really hard," Morefield said. "I just didn't know where it was going. I didn't have any control. [Meusborn] likes guys who could hit spots, and I couldn't do that."

As a result, Morefield spent most of the season on the bench. The Chancellors reached the 4-A semifinals before losing to Poly.

Undaunted, Morefield worked on his hitting throughout the next year. He pitched for Chatsworth in several games early in the 1997 season and got more playing time.

Late in April, Morefield got a chance to start at first base and hit two home runs against Birmingham. By the end of the season, he was the hottest hitter in the City Section.

He hit home runs in each of Chatsworth's three playoff games. He finished with a .455 average, seven home runs and 27 RBIs in 55 at-bats.

"We had been giving different guys a chance, and he finally stepped in," Meusborn said. "When a guy hits two home runs in a game, it's kind of hard to take him out."

But the 1997 season ended bitterly. Favored to win the City title, Chatsworth lost, 9-6, to El Camino Real in the semifinals.

The postseason failure weighed on Morefield. Last fall, he sat down with Meusborn and offered suggestions for the 1998 season.

"He wanted to open some lines of communication," Meusborn said. "He wanted to make sure we worked hard but still had fun."

Morefield has quietly assumed the elder-statesman role.

And he eagerly switched positions--this time to center field--to better take advantage of his arm and speed. His ranks second on the team with 13 stolen bases.

Although Meusborn considered using Morefield as a closer, the right-hander hasn't had many opportunities to pitch this season because of the effectiveness of Chatsworth's starters.

Morefield's only appearance on the mound came when he started a 14-4 victory over Los Angeles University during spring break. But he still works on his pitching.

"He really is a testimony to hard work," teammate Danny Eisenberg said. "He really goes full bore and sets the example for the rest of us.

"He's taken every loss this season personally. He's been around longer. I think playing at Dodger Stadium might mean just a little bit more than it does to the rest of us."

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