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BASEBALL

Berryhill Provides Artists Major League Legitimacy

April 10, 2001|BEN BOLCH

Advising a major league hitter that he uppercuts the ball on his swing is one thing. Telling a 15-year-old high school player is quite another.

"I'm used to making a suggestion or telling somebody what they're doing wrong and having them pick it up almost immediately," said Damon Berryhill, the former big-league catcher who has returned to his alma mater, Laguna Beach High, as hitting and catching instructor.

"In high school, you can explain something and get a blank stare for the fifth or sixth time you go over the same thing."

It may not seem like it sometimes, but Berryhill is making a difference for the Artists in his second season as assistant coach. Laguna Beach went to the playoffs last season for the first time in 37 years.

Need more evidence?

Just ask junior catcher Ian Baumer. "He's helped me with both my defensive and offensive skills," Baumer said. "My throws down to second base were at 2.1 [seconds]. Now they're at 2.05 or 2.04."

Or ask Laguna Beach Coach Mike Schubert. "Having him here is huge," Schubert said. "It makes everyone excited. That was one of the things when I hired him. I was a Division II college pitching coach coming in from Wisconsin. Nobody knew who I was. He brought legitimacy to our program right from the start."

Berryhill was a light-hitting catcher during a 10-year major league career that included stops in Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati and San Francisco. He had a .240 career average with 47 home runs and 257 runs batted in.

But he did have that one shining moment every kid dreams about. Berryhill slammed a three-run home run off Toronto pitcher Jack Morris in Game 1 of the 1992 World Series to give Atlanta a 3-1 victory. Toronto went on to win the Series in six games.

Berryhill left the game about a month into the 1998 season, when the pain in his throwing arm became more than he could handle.

It only seemed natural for the Laguna Beach native to return home. In many ways, he had never left.

"I always came back after the season and I always kept in touch with my friends," Berryhill said. "This is where I grew up, where all my friends are."

Though he takes some warming up to, Berryhill is someone players seek out for advice and extra help.

"He is pretty reserved until you get to know him," said Schubert. "Players that are new to the program aren't really sure how to read him because he doesn't say much. Once you get to know him, he opens up."

Berryhill serves as a counterbalance to Schubert, the team's disciplinarian and a man so into baseball that he postponed his wedding four months last year so he and his wife-to-be, Cori, could attend a Milwaukee Brewers game with some old pals.

Berryhill, 37, loves the game, but he'd just as soon spend time with sons Joshua, 11, and Jacob, 7, who are in their baseball infancy.

"We complement each other well," Schubert said. "I listen to anything he has to say and vice versa."

Laguna Beach (5-8, 2-5 in the Pacific Coast League) probably isn't headed for a return to the postseason, but Berryhill likes the fact that he and Schubert have instilled a competitiveness into the program.

"We're struggling right now, but our program competes," Berryhill said. "There's not a situation where they expect to go in and lose. They expect to win."

LOOKING AHEAD

A share of first place in the Empire League is on the line at 7 p.m. Wednesday when El Dorado (11-3, 5-2) plays Loara (5-2, 7-9) at Glover Stadium. Katella (10-4, 5-2), which plays Cypress (10-4, 4-3) today at Boysen Park, also figures into the picture.

If you have an item or idea for the high school baseball report, you can call us at (714) 966-7826 or e-mail us at ben.bolch@latimes.com

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

BASEBALL TOP 10

Orange County Sportswriters' Poll

*--*

Pos. School League Rec Pts 1. Mater Dei (2) Serra 13-1 49 2. Esperanza (1) Sunset 12-2 44 3. La Quinta (3) G. Grove 14-1 42 4. El Dorado (5) Empire 11-3 30 5. Trabuco Hills (9) South Coast 11-3 29 6. Sonora (6) Freeway 13-1 27 7. Irvine (4) Sea View 11-3 20 8. Canyon (7) Century 10-4 17 9. Corona del Mar (10) P. Coast 10-3 10 10. Mission Viejo (8) S. Coast 8-4-1 4

*--*

*Last week's rankings in parentheses

Others: Katella (10-4) 3.

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