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2001 Baseball Preview

PATH to GLORY

Santiago's Pilkington Gets Another Step Closer to Fulfilling His Big-League Promise

February 20, 2001|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brian Pilkington's dream to play major league baseball started not long after his dad placed a glove on the 4-year-old's tiny hand for the first time. Not long after he took his first vicious swings at that stationary ball atop the little stand.

His desire was fueled on those evenings when he would place a couple of gloves in his lap and wait on the front porch for his dad, who would return from work and play catch until his son was too exhausted to continue.

And it became cemented in his mind on afternoons when he decided to stay inside and mimic video images of uncle Bert instead of joining the neighborhood kids who were playing outside.

Now, after what has seemed to him like an eternity, Pilkington is on the brink of a senior season that could catapult him as high as the first round of baseball's June amateur draft.

Baseball America has already tabbed the Santiago High right-hander as the 55th best high school senior prospect in the United States, and a strong showing in the next few months could send his major league stock soaring.

Last season, Pilkington went 8-2 with a 1.28 earned-run average and recorded 83 strikeouts in 82 regular-season innings. His biggest single-day accomplishment came when he pitched a four-hitter and hit a two-run home run in a 2-0 victory over Garden Grove League rival La Quinta.

"When he's on the mound, you're not going to score very many runs--if any," La Quinta Coach Dave Demarest said of Pilkington. "You better have your 'A' game."

Pilkington is at his best when he has all three of his pitches--fastball, curve and changeup--working. His nastiest pitch is a two-seam fastball that runs in on right-handers with a little drop near the plate. Left-handers are often left wondering what happened when the pitch, which appears headed for their knees, is called a strike.

Pilkington learned the grip and release on his curve from his uncle, Bert Blyleven, who won 287 games in a 22-year major league career.

Pilkington has fashioned himself after Blyleven since those afternoons when he watched his uncle pitch for Minnesota and Pittsburgh in World Series games thanks to his parents' VCR.

Blyleven has seen his nephew pitch only once, in a tournament near his home in Fort Myers, Fla., Pilkington said, adding that his uncle told him he was "shocked" by how good he was.

"My dream is to surpass him," Pilkington said of Blyleven. "He had 287 wins. I want 288, just so I can say I beat him."

For now, Pilkington will settle for beating the La Quinta Aztecs, who have won eight consecutive league titles. Santiago, which finished second last season, will need strong showings from Pilkington and Caesar Cabral, the Cavaliers' No. 2 starter, for a chance at first place.

Pilkington hopes to throw his fastball consistently in the 89- to 93-mph range, a bit faster than last season. He has worked extensively with a weight trainer over the last six months to strengthen his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame. He also continues to hone his game with cousin Sean McCorry, a former Orange Coast College and La Verne player who has been his pitching coach the last 10 years.

Despite the physical work, Pilkington's most noticeable improvement lately has come in his mental approach. Last season, Santiago Coach Paul Allen said, Pilkington used to toy with batters to his own detriment after establishing 0-2 counts.

"Now," Allen said, "he understands that we just want him to smoke them and move on."

Allen said he will start Pilkington on Fridays so he can pitch a couple of innings of relief on Wednesdays, if needed, and so "I also won't have 40,000 phone calls at my home asking when he's going to pitch."

Pilkington, who hopes to sign with a major league team right out of high school, is also trying not to get caught up in everybody else's expectations.

"I don't worry about the scouts," he said. "I play the game. It's great to have them at the games, but I don't stress over it."

Pilkington cautions that he still has a lot to prove. "I'm not good yet," he said. "I'll be good when I'm in the big leagues."

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