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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Guntz, a Sophomore, Not an Ordinary Joe

Baseball: Left-hander has become ace and practical joker for top-seeded Chatsworth.

May 26, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHATSWORTH — It's unanimous among baseball players at Chatsworth High: Tom Meusborn has never been nicer in his 11 years as coach.

He's calmer, more patient and more tolerant of eccentric personalities.

"He won't admit it, but he's not as tough as he used to be," sophomore left-hander Joe Guntz said.

Some of the credit for the mellowing of Meusborn must go to Guntz, a champion practical joker whose antics and free spirit could be rubbing off on Meusborn.

Last summer, Meusborn ran into Guntz at Zuma Beach and was offered a lecture on the pleasures of beach life.

"He was trying to tell me how I should learn to skim board and how much that would help me as I'm getting older," Meusborn said.

Guntz, who's 16 going on 12, is the player Meusborn will be counting on most when top-seeded Chatsworth (24-1-1) begins the City Championship tournament today against Grant (17-9) at Chatsworth.

Guntz is 10-0 with 10 complete games. He's scheduled to start in three of the four playoff games if the defending City champion Chancellors make it to Dodger Stadium. His rise to ace status has been meteoric.

"He can be as good as anyone we've had," Meusborn said.

Guntz has gone from a junior varsity pitcher brought up at midseason last year to a likely All-City pitcher because of his ability to throw strikes from different angles. Just when you get used to an overhand fastball, he'll throw a sidearm change-up or sidearm fastball.

His poise and competitiveness, combined with his fearlessness, make himdifficult to defeat. He gives up his share of hits and walks (80 hits in 71 1/3 innings, with 41 walks). His earned-run average is 2.55.

"He pitches tough in tough situations," pitching coach Matt LaCour said.

More important, he has improved with each game. His walks have dropped considerably and his confidence is growing.

"I get mad on the mound and try to be as aggressive as I can," Guntz said.

Off the field, everyone is on alert waiting for Guntz to unleash his latest trick on an unsuspecting player or coach.

Earlier this season, he tied players' practice bags to the fence. He also took LaCour's clothes out of his locker and tied them to his car.

Of course, people know how to deal with Guntz--they retaliate. One day Guntz found his practice bag filled with water. And his locker suddenly had an unpleasant odor.

"It smells really bad," he said. "I'm going to find out who did it by threatening to hit them all."

Guntz usually has the last laugh, though. During Chatsworth's trip to the Bishop Gorman tournament in Las Vegas in April, he wiped out everyone in card games.

"I came back with $200 more than I came with," he said. "They think they can get it back. I'm ready to take them on any time."

Guntz, 6 feet and 190 pounds, is so relaxed on the mound Meusborn wonders whether his ace got a good night's sleep.

"I'm never nervous out there," Guntz said. "I never worry on the field."

Guntz would be the perfect pitcher for the pressure-filled City final at Dodger Stadium on June 6.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Ever since I started watching high school games in seventh grade, I'd talk about it with my dad and grandpa, saying, 'Some day, it's going to be me out there.' "

It could happen--as long as his teammates don't kick him off the bus after one of his pranks.

*

* High School baseball playoff schedule, Page 14

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