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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Life Threw a Curve

Arroyo, Northridge Slugger, Dealt With Death of His Mother When He Was 12

April 26, 2001|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Tim Arroyo got an early start hitting home runs at Cal State Northridge.

As a Kennedy High senior in 1998, Arroyo drove a ball over the right-field scoreboard at Northridge during the Bernie Milligan All-Star game.

As a Northridge freshman, Arroyo launched a game-winning grand slam against San Francisco in his first college at-bat.

Arroyo, a junior first baseman and the Matadors' cleanup hitter, possesses a smooth left-handed swing that produces tape-measure shots.

Recently, home runs have been coming in bunches.

Last week at Northridge, Arroyo hit three homers and drove in seven runs in a 15-1 rout of Fullerton, one game after his school-record 25-game hitting streak ended.

Northridge (25-18, 3-6 in the Big West Conference) will try to remain alive in the conference race in a weekend series at Long Beach State (28-13, 5-1) that begins Friday.

If Northridge is to rebound in a season beginning to slip away, Arroyo, a team leader and arguably its most popular player, said maturity will play a role.

"Just trying your best and not worrying too much," he said. "Being able to know that you're not going to get [a hit] every time and you can get it done next time."

Arroyo speaks thoughtfully about such traits. Of course, he got an early start dealing with those things, too.

"I had to grow up real quick," he said.

Arroyo, 21, has endured hardships greater than most his age. When he was 12, his mother, Nickie, died at 33 of a brain aneurysm, leaving her husband, Ken, with three sons, including Nick, 8, and Trevor, 5.

The family was shattered by grief. Nickie, like Ken, was a longtime coach in youth leagues and coached her sons in T-ball. Tim and his brothers learned as much about the game from their mother as their father.

"I know there's nothing I can't handle, obviously," Arroyo said. "I put God and faith first because that's what my mom did. She raised us in the church. And she was always around softball and baseball."

Ken Arroyo, now 46, put grieving out of his mind and devoted himself to his sons, enlisting them in one sport after another.

"I remember talking to all three of them and I especially remember talking to Tim," Ken said. "I said, 'I need you to help me because you're the oldest.' "

Tim took the helm, excelling in baseball and becoming a Times All-Valley selection in 1998.

While in high school, Arroyo's brothers would scramble after the ball when he hit a home run.

One of Arroyo's home runs at Kennedy reportedly carried more than 500 feet.

"They look up to him tremendously," Ken said.

Nick is a senior at Cleveland who is batting .460. Trevor, who will attend Cleveland in the fall, played on a youth basketball team that recently won a city championship.

Ken spends his time shuffling from one event to the other. It is impossible to attend every game. When conflicts arise, Tim takes priority.

"They all know that Tim's first," Ken said.

Arroyo, polite and personable, is quick to credit a teammate's pitching performance rather than discuss a run batted in.

Arroyo is batting .385 and ranks third in the Big West with 11 home runs. Not only popular among teammates, Arroyo's name draws the most cheers when he steps to the plate.

Easy to understand, since the Arroyo entourage averages close to a dozen for home games. Everyone from grandparents to his brothers usually are in attendance.

One spectator keeps a scrapbook of Arroyo's accomplishments. The attention is not lost on Arroyo.

"Having two brothers, I know what it's like to be looked up to," Arroyo said. "I always take it upon myself to be an example to anybody who's watching me, whether they know me or not."

The family has endured, thanks largely to the support of relatives, church and friends.

"We're real close," Arroyo said. "Our grandparents are always taking care of us. My mom's side of the family or my dad's parents. A lot of people from the church. Everybody was always willing to help."

Arroyo recently moved out of the family home and lives with his uncle, his father's younger brother, near campus. He is majoring in kinesiology and is on pace to graduate next winter.

Arroyo, who was recruited by Long Beach, Loyola Marymount and New Mexico, opted for Northridge despite being encouraged by his father to move away to college.

"I wish for all my boys to get away," Ken said. "Go out and live."

Family ties kept Tim close to home.

Ken, a salesman for Frito-Lay, lives in Northridge with Nick and Trevor. He has not remarried but says he has resumed dating.

"Everyone's doing really well," Tim said. "The brothers are starting to come around. They're growing up. Trevor's going to be in high school and I know my grandparents and my dad are proud of everybody."

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