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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Bubba's Boy

Steward Needed His Father's Discipline Before Blossoming at Burroughs

May 19, 2000|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BURBANK — Spencer Steward can hammer a fastball from here to Houston.

Yes, sir. He's come a long way in five years.

From Houston to here.

Steward, a .519-hitting senior center fielder at Burroughs High, left his native Texas at 13 to live with his father, realizing his life lacked structure.

"I needed my father's influence before I made some bad decisions," he said. "It was my decision all the way."

Good move. Steward is straight as that aluminum stick he swings so well. He's polite almost to a fault, addressing adults as sir and ma'am.

"It's a Texas thing," he said.

He's the last one to leave the field after practice, the guy forever telling a batting practice pitcher, "One more swing. C'mon, throw me one more pitch."

Steward's dedication waned for a short time last year when love bloomed right about the time baseball season started. Give him a break. It was springtime.

"He wasn't staying at the field like he used to," Coach Jose Valle said. "This year he's putting in the hard work again.

"Now it's a running joke. He says he broke up with his girlfriend, but she still seems to be at the field an awful lot. But it's clear baseball is No. 1 again."

On the basepaths, Steward's running is no joke. He has 13 stolen bases and three triples.

He has a home run trot figured out, too. Steward, 6 feet and 180 pounds, has five homers among his 17 extra-base hits and has driven in 41 runs.

"Spencer is as close to a five-point player as you'll find in high school," Valle said. "He can do everything. He hits for average, hits with power, has a great arm, runs well and covers excellent ground in the outfield."

Sounds like a prospect. Steward needs to pass a math class this summer to be eligible for a Division I scholarship. Otherwise, he will attend a junior college.

Steward's long-range plan is to get into movie production. He's already had a taste, working for years with his father, Bubba, who taught him that a key grip means more than how to hold a bat.

He strapped cameras to cars for chase scenes, set up lights and admired Heather Locklear from afar.

"Spencer used to grip with me quite a bit," Bubba Steward said. "We worked on a Chuck Norris movie and some others. He's a hard worker and he picks up everything so fast. Everybody liked him."

Steward is more rugged than the average ballplayer. He tried his hand at football, fractured his knee two years ago, then came back to start at running back last season.

But all along it was baseball that brought out his best. Batting in the No. 3 spot in the lineup, he is 42 for 81 entering a first-round Southern Section Division III play game today at South Torrance.

"I should have batted this high every year," he said. "I really put my mind to it. I realized how easy it is to put up numbers and it all came together."

Steward credits sports psychology expert Michael Benner with opening his eyes to the mental aspect of the game. Benner volunteered to work with Burroughs' team last season.

"I took what he said about deep breathing and visualization to heart," Steward said. "Now I know I can hit the ball instead of hoping I can hit the ball."

He doesn't have to convince Canyon Coach Adam Schulhofer, who ranks Steward as the best hitter and best throwing outfielder his team has played. Others are impressed as well, including Doug Deutsch and Tim Cunningham, who invited him to play on the Houston Astros scout team.

Steward's arm convinced Valle to use him as a relief pitcher. He has one save and has pitched out of several jams.

But the save situation Steward will always be grateful for is the one where his dad came to the rescue. After visiting during summers when he was 11 and 12, he came to Burbank for good at 13 to join Bubba and his second wife, Jennifer.

Now he has siblings ages 2 and 3, as well as a father who rarely misses a practice, let alone a game.

"He's sort of everybody's dad," Steward said. "I came here to get some rules laid out for me, and it's worked out in every way. The ball is better and I've made great friends."

You might say his life is one big hit.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Southern Section Playoffs

All game times 3:15 p.m.

FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS

Today

Division I

Oxnard at Los Alamitos

Highland at Lakewood

Crescenta Valley at Camarillo

Long Beach Wilson at Crespi

Division II

Sultana at Palmdale

Royal at California

Damien at Ventura

Westminster at Thousand Oaks

Lancaster at Hart

Division III

Temple City at Westlake

Calabasas at Paso Robles

Burroughs at South Torrance

Division IV

Oak Park at Gladstone

Notre Dame at Mayfair

La Canada at Nordhoff

Chaminade at Lompoc

Division V

L.A. Baptist at St. Bonaventure

Brentwood at St. Anthony

Vasquez at Cerritos Valley Christian

Kern Valley at Campbell Hall

Ontario Christian at Village Christian

Division VI

Grace Brethren, bye

Highland Hall at Thacher

Faith Baptist 12, Rolling Hills Prep 0

Granada Hills Hillcrest Christian at Viewpoint

First Lutheran at Cuyama Valley

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