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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Masked Marvels

Catchers Hamer, Wyman Make Positive Impacts

May 13, 2000|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joey Hamer and Spencer Wyman are catchers, but their legacy will be more about giving than receiving.

Make no mistake. Magic with the mitt and the ability to send fastballs into orbit earned Newbury Park High's Hamer and Camarillo's Wyman college scholarships and keen interest from major league scouts.

But to the special-education students Hamer works with regularly, his .443 batting average and quick release mean less than his unwavering patience and uplifting spirit.

And in Envirothon circles--national competition involving complex, environmentally sensitive land-use management issues--Wyman's colleagues don't give an endangered hoot owl about the six three-run home runs he hit during a two-week tear.

Hamer and Wyman are an increasingly rare breed: High school athletes dedicated to becoming outstanding people as well as outstanding ballplayers.

Not that their game suffers. These masked men are undisputed team leaders and rugged veterans of four varsity seasons. Between high school, legion, scout league and assorted tournaments, they hold squatter's rights in nearly 100 games a year.

No one wants to see them go. Coaches, teachers, classmates--you name it--probably wish Hamer and Wyman would tattoo the names of their schools on their foreheads.

That way, wherever their careers take them, whatever paths they choose, they would be breathing billboards for Newbury Park and Camarillo. The schools could have no better endorsement.

*

Hamer's last Newbury Park game was a victory over Agoura on Wednesday and he turned in a typically strong performance, hitting a triple and a single and keeping the opposition from stealing any bases.

While Hamer went about his business, others were alternately inspired and saddened.

Tommy Thompson, the plate umpire, was thinking of giving the assignment to a colleague until he realized it would be Hamer's last game. Four years of protection from a catcher who blocks everything in the dirt means something.

Thompson told Hamer it was an honor to share the battleground behind home plate with him for so long.

Newbury Park did not make the playoffs in Hamer's career and only once finished with a winning record. Yet never was heard a discouraging word from the catcher.

"Joey's maturity amazed me," said Steve Johnson, Newbury Park's basketball coach and the public address announcer at baseball games. "I never saw him get down. No bad body language. No negative comments. He was pure class."

Sitting in the dugout for the first time all season was Hamer's best friend, Matt Emole, a quadriplegic as the result of an automobile accident in August. Emole, a starting outfielder last season, was released from the hospital last week.

Emole's presence inspired the Panthers in their last game. Hamer's friendship inspired Emole during his long, painful recovery.

"He's been there for me the whole way," Emole said. "We weren't that good of friends before my accident, but we've gotten so close. He brings me dinner and just hangs out with me a lot."

The friendship is not one-way. Emole has given Hamer more than he knows.

"My whole approach toward baseball is different since Matt's accident," Hamer said. "My thought process is different. I don't stress as much. I used to worry about not getting a hit, but now I think, 'It's great, I get to go out and play baseball today.' "

Hamer, who has a scholarship to Iowa State, is a teaching assistant in a special-education class at Newbury Park. The students asked him to sit with them during graduation ceremonies, so he will.

Once Hamer is handed the diplomas, life will really get interesting. He has made it clear to scouts that he wants to sign a pro contract. Now. It has been his plan since he became one of the first junior high players in the Southland to make a scout team.

Hamer never turns down a chance to swing a wood bat or catch a pro pitcher during the off-season. His father, Bob, an FBI agent, supports his desire to begin a pro career.

"Before this year, I wasn't as sure," Bob Hamer said. "But from the decisions he makes and the maturity I've seen, I believe he is ready."

At Newbury Park, Hamer will be remembered as a solid rock in swirling sand.

"Everybody recognized his ability, but I appreciated the intangibles," Coach Curtis Scott said. "He's rubbed off on a lot of players by doing things right on and off the field.

"And he's picked up the coach every now and then. He tells me, 'Everything is going to be all right.' How many kids do that?"

*

It seems like he wears a mask, chest protector and shin guards 24 hours a day, but nobody calls Wyman a gear-head.

Not when he carries a 4.0 grade-point average in honor's classes. Not when he has a scholarship to California. Not with his Envirothon team already crowned state champion and preparing for national competition.

Juggling academics and athletics is especially difficult for Wyman because he puts so much effort into both areas. He missed five nonleague games in March because of the state Envirothon competition in Petaluma.

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