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Valley / Ventura County Sports | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Taillon Best at Bat and Chat

May 21, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER

On the game's first pitch, Cory Taillon's adrenaline spikes like a Geiger counter detecting radiation.

His hands shake, his eyes turn red, his body stiffens. He reaches a level of intensity that inspires teammates and frustrates foes.

He plays baseball with a football player's mentality. He'll raise his fist, clench his teeth and yell.

It's no act.

He releases so much emotion and energy during a game it's almost exhausting to watch.

"After a good, tough game, where I'm screaming a lot and exerting a lot of energy, I can go home and sleep," he said. "I just like to leave everything on the field."

Taillon's focus has enabled him to become the leading hitter for Westlake High (23-3) with a .482 batting average, including 40 hits.

No one plays the game harder or more passionately. That's why last month, after a victory over Marmonte League rival Thousand Oaks, an emotionally drained Taillon went to the dugout and cried.

During post-game handshakes, somebody uttered the word "classless." It hurt him like a knife slicing through his skin because nothing could be further from the truth.

"When I yell and scream, I never deliberately want to hurt anyone's feelings and rub it in," he said. "That's just the way I play the game and I'm sorry they don't understand that."

At 5 feet 10, 175 pounds, Taillon has been the underdog throughout his high school career. He was a catcher his first two years, then forced to find a new position because Westlake had Michael Nickeas, one of the best in the region.

"That was the toughest thing," Taillon said. "All the other positions had been filled up through the years. I had to beat out one of my best friends who was an outfielder."

He earned the starting job in right field and his catcher's arm made him a baserunner's worst nightmare. This season, he has thrown out six runners and twice prevented potential defeats with powerful throws.

"It's unbelievable," he said of the adrenaline rush. "It's unlike anything I've ever felt. It's really amazing."

From an early age, Taillon set himself apart. He spoke so loudly that a teacher once asked his mother to have his hearing tested. It was normal.

"When I'm not laughing or smiling, life's boring," he said.

Added his mother Kate: "He loves people. If there's ever a camera around, he's always a ham."

Taillon wanted to prove his .418 batting average as a junior was no aberration. He received more incentive during the summer when six Westlake players were selected to the Area Codes games and he wasn't one of them. It was another example of people underestimating his skills.

"I go, 'You know, even if I'm not picked, I'm going to show people I can be the best player,' " he said. "I can do just as well as any of the others."

Said Coach Chuck Berrington: "He's been magnificent for two years. He continually gets better and better."

Some college coach is going to think he's gone to heaven with Taillon on the team next season. If baseball doesn't work out, Taillon has options.

"I can always take my personality and adrenaline rush to another occupation--maybe an actor or stuntman," he said.

Didn't Chris Farley start out as a right fielder?

*

Receiver Joey Rodriguez of Granada Hills High was timed at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash, making him the fastest football player coaches Tom Harp and Darryl Stroh have coached since they took over the program in the mid-1980s. . . .

Aron Gideon, who coached the offensive line at Cal State Northridge and played center at UCLA, has been hired to coach defensive line at Notre Dame and serve as dean of students. . . .

Assistant baseball coaches, Matt LaCour of Chatsworth and Josh Eby of Westlake have applied for vacant positions at Saugus and Agoura, respectively. Both would be terrific hires. LaCour could be a candidate if the Taft job opens. . . .

A biography on Marion Jones, former Thousand Oaks and Rio Mesa track standout, has arrived in book stores. Written by columnist Ron Rapoport of Chicago Sun-Times, the book chronicles Jones' rise from her days as a Little Leaguer in Palmdale to the world's fastest woman. . . .

Offensive lineman Kenny Baker and defensive end Jason Lance, two promising sophomore football players at Crespi, are transferring to Alemany. . . .

Running back Trevin Lund from Notre Dame will try to walk-on at USC, but he figures to receive more autograph requests than Carson Palmer if he hits it big with his band, Nikki Lund. He's the lead guitarist and his sister, Nikki, is the vocalist. Watch out, MTV.

*

Josh Cummings of Hart never attempted a field goal last season, but there are college coaches who could use him this fall. The only problem is he'll be a senior at Hart.

He sent 66 kickoffs into the end zone last season when he was the backup field-goal kicker. Now it's his job, and he has been booming the ball in spring drills. On the junior varsity, his longest field goal was 52 yards. He's accurate inside 55 yards.

He and his father produced a highlight video of his kicks last season that should impress any college coach, along with his 1250 Scholastic Assessment Test score.

Cummings' uncle is Dale Frack, former Hart receiver. If Cummings needs someone to pressure offensive coordinator Dean Herrington to let him kick an occasional field goal, Frack could do it. He was Herrington's favorite target.

But Frack, a chiropractor, recently moved to Missouri with his five children.

"I think they'll see me kicking during practice and have confidence in me during games," Cummings said.

*

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

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