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Ferrero's Daily Regimen Already Pays Dividends but Critics Wonder If She Might Be Overdoing It

July 25, 1999|PAIGE A. LEECH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If Elena Ferrero doesn't become one of the most successful softball pitchers in Valley history, it certainly won't be for lack of effort on her part.

Or her father's, for that matter.

These days, no softball player is working harder than Ferrero at being all she can be.

The 15-year-old sophomore at Harvard-Westlake High has the training schedule of an Olympic athlete. Her daily workouts include much more than pitching.

Because her father Chuck is athletic director at Valley College, her access to facilities is better than most athletes.

There's weight training twice a week, a running workout with a strength-and-speed coach once a week and about 150 swings in a batting cage each day. Throwing 200 pitches with regulation, weighted and oversized softballs also is part of the regimen.

And that's just what Ferrero does on her own time.

Add to that a couple of practices a week with her travel softball team--the 16-and-under Panthers Gold--and a handful of pitching assignments on the weekend, and it's small wonder Ferrero has time for little else.

"It keeps me occupied," she said. "I'm used to it now. It's as natural as getting up. I know I have to practice, so I schedule everything around that."

Except everything is softball.

"It's all I really have time for," she said.

Ferrero performs her herculean tasks under the watchful eye of her father, whose drive to push the oldest of his three children has been questioned.

Chuck Ferrero says Elena isn't doing anything out of the ordinary for an athlete of her caliber.

"It's no more than these other girls, except she's a pitcher," said Chuck, pointing to Elena's teammates at a Panthers Gold practice. "These girls all train like that. But she's a pitcher, so it's like [training for] a second sport.

"I think people have a tendency to exaggerate [how much she does] because of what I do for a living. But she wants to do it. She wants to be good."

She is already that. Ferrero was the only freshman on The Times' All-Valley softball team last season, when she led Harvard-Westlake to the Southern Section Division IV quarterfinals. She finished 10-6 with 127 strikeouts in 113 innings and a 1.12 earned-run average.

This summer, Ferrero turned heads by beating Gordon's Panthers, defending 18-and-under Gold Division national champions, with a three-hitter. In the 1-0 victory, she twice struck out Oli Keohohou of Newbury Park High, The Times' Ventura County player of the year last season.

But Ferrero is already paying a price for her rapid development. She battles chronic tendinitis in her right shoulder and left knee, prompting some to wonder if she's headed for early burnout.

"Well, nothing's been going wrong, so I guess it's right," she said. "[My dad is] not doing anything wrong, but I don't know what to compare it to because I've always had this."

Dale Moore, the Panthers Gold coach, acknowledges Ferrero works out more than most players. But, considering her enthusiasm for the game, he doesn't consider her a burnout candidate.

"So far I haven't seen any indication of it," Moore said.

Ferrero, who started pitching four years ago, sees no reason to change her routine. Her career has been on the rise since she pitched the Southern California Stealth to the 12-and-under Amateur Softball Assn. national championship in 1996 and the Panthers Gold to the 14-and-under title last summer.

Although her future is as a pitcher, Ferrero is no slouch at the plate. She batted a team-high .385 for Harvard-Westlake last season, leading the Mission League with 40 hits, including five doubles and five triples.

Her motivation seemingly comes from a fear of failure, trying to measure up to expectations.

"I don't want to lie, I think about [the expectations] a lot," Ferrero said. "I'm afraid that everyone is thinking, 'Oh, I've got to go watch [her] and see this.' And what if it's not what they expected? What if it doesn't turn out like everyone's saying?"

Those who have watched Ferrero play know she can deliver.

"If she keeps the intensity that she has now, she can probably pick her college," said Bob Vanderberg, Ferrero's pitching coach for the last four years.

Ferrero's intensity is inherited from her fiery father, a former junior college football coach.

When 10-year-old Elena told her father she wanted to pitch, Chuck enthusiastically tried to learn everything he could about softball.

They learned from each other as Elena steadily improved.

But Elena says she eventually tired of her father's constant instruction. Now she rebuffs his advice.

"I can figure out things for myself now," she said. "And I think it's hard for him to realize that I'm not 12 anymore."

Elena's reaction is not lost on her father.

"There's no discussion between her and I anymore," Chuck said. "It's not like when she was a little girl. She does what she wants to do. . . . She doesn't listen to me."

But no one wants Elena to succeed more than her father. He says he has only her best interests at heart and is not blind to her needs.

"During this time of the year, like every pitcher's dad, I'm the one who sits on the bucket and catches her workouts," Chuck said. "I can tell when she's tired and I shut it down."

Elena hasn't had a vacation away from softball in nearly a year.

After helping her team win a national title last summer, she played in winter tournaments before starting her freshman season at Harvard-Westlake.

After the national tournament in August, Elena plans to spend a week on the beach in San Diego with friends. And she's leaving the ball and glove at home.

"My dad doesn't go, so it's my one week where I do absolutely nothing," she said. "Except run on the beach or something."

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