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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | Eric Sondheimer

Frost Bright

Scholarly Senior Brings Uncommon Maturity to Role as Campbell Hall Ace

March 22, 2000|Eric Sondheimer

Loyalty is a dying virtue, but every so often, a teenager inspires us with a simple act of courage.

This is the story of Michael Frost and why everyone should be proud.

On a stormy evening in late August of 1994, the Earthquake Kids from Northridge Little League were playing Venezuela in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

With two out, no one on base and a national television audience looking on, Frost struck out to end the game. Venezuela celebrated a 4-3 victory. Frost, who was a reserve second baseman when the playoffs began, went back to the dugout to commiserate with his disappointed Northridge teammates.

When he arrived home, he was greeted like a hero, with parades to attend, politicians to meet, television interviews to tape. That didn't help him forget hearing the agonizing cry, "You lost it for our country."

He was only 12, too young to think his life was ruined but old enough to understand he had gone through a life-changing experience.

"It was very hard to get over that," he said. "I learned how to deal with it and it became one of the best life experiences I've ever had, to come back from a failure and strive to be better."

Most of Frost's teammates would go on to become excellent high school players at prominent schools, such as Matt Fisher, Matt Cassel and Gregg Wallis at Chatsworth, Peter Tuber at Granada Hills, Matt Cunningham at Notre Dame, Nathaniel Dunlap, Michael Nesbit and Jonathan Higashi at Chaminade.

Frost took a different path. He was smaller than many of his friends and didn't want to see his baseball career end by getting lost at a big school. So he enrolled at North Hollywood's Campbell Hall as a 5-foot-5 freshman determined to keep playing and work toward his dream of becoming a Rhodes scholar.

"I needed to challenge my brain," he said. "I didn't know if I would make it in baseball."

Then, like the changing of the seasons, Frost began to change. He started to grow at a rapid rate and discovered a love for pitching.

He became a small schools standout, in the mold of Jeff Cirillo at Providence and Brad Fullmer at Montclair Prep. He shot up to 6-3 and put up pitching statistics that made people take notice.

In four varsity seasons, he's 24-6 with a 1.39 earned-run average and 239 strikeouts in 185 1/3 innings. He was the Delphic League player of the year as a sophomore and co-player of the year as a junior.

He did not have to return for his senior year at Campbell Hall. Whenever he played baseball in the offseason, he was bombarded with offers to transfer.

"You'd be our ace," everyone promised.

He considered transferring to Granada Hills, his neighborhood school. If he had gone there, the Highlanders instantly would become a contender to challenge El Camino Real and Chatsworth for the West Valley League title.

He looked at Notre Dame, a team with many hitters but few pitchers. It was almost a guarantee that Frost's presence would mean a championship for the Knights.

He thought about testing himself against the best, something he enjoyed doing in the summer and fall, when he played American Legion and for a scout team. He pitched against Thousand Oaks in the Brea tournament in January, giving up two runs in six innings.

In the end, after long discussions with his parents, friends and coaches, this son of a pastor, who's 18 but still doesn't shave, chose to remain at Campbell Hall.

"It was a very tough decision," he said. "To play against the best would be great, but I chose to stay."

He has a 3.4 grade-point average, 1200 SAT score, throws a fastball in the low 80s and has lots of room for improvement. He's still growing and getting stronger.

Some college coach is going to take a chance on him and look like a genius, for Frost knows how to pitch.

"It's like my friend always says, 'Pitching is like real estate--location, location, location,' " Frost said. "I throw it to a place they can't hit it."

Last season, he focused on striking out batters because he wanted to attract attention.

"This year, I'm just concentrating on getting people out and winning the game any way I can, and having fun," he said.

After three weeks, Frost is 4-0 with a 1.05 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 20 innings.

His coach, Doug Latta, said, "Mike is a breath of fresh air. You get a lot of kids subjected to hype. They become somebody important and they put themselves beyond that, thinking, 'Hey, I'm the man.' Mike knows the expectations, but he knows he's part of a team and never goes beyond the scope."

Frost rarely loses his composure, something he learned from surviving those pressure-filled days in Williamsport. He trusts himself.

"When I get into a tough situation, I can take a deep breath, pray a little bit, focus on what I have to do and clear my mind," he said. "I kind of expect a lot out of myself. I just do. I really feel I can be the best at whatever I do."

If only he could go back in time to the days he was pummeled in Little League pillow fights and wrestling duels. He wants a rematch, now that he's grown to within an inch of the 6-4 Cassel.

"Oh yeah, I'd take him," Frost said.

People can question the small-school competition Frost plays against, but they can't question his loyalty.

He chose to stay at Campbell Hall and let the future take care of itself. It's a gamble, with potential risks to his baseball future. But he has the courage and confidence to give it a try.

"I love playing with my teammates," he said. "I don't think I'll have any regrets."

*

Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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