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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

Dedmon Has a Lot of Pop in Her Game

April 19, 2002

When Jeff Dedmon was pitching for the Atlanta Braves, he'd bring his infant daughter, Kristen, to the father-child game at Fulton County Stadium.

It's too bad he retired after the 1988 season, because the Dedmons would be tough to beat in any father-child game these days.

Last year as a sophomore at Anaheim Esperanza High, Kristen pitched eight consecutive shutouts to help the Aztecs reach the Southern Section Division I softball final. She finished 20-5 with 17 shutouts and an 0.07 earned-run average.

But it was her batting last summer for her travel team that has college coaches ready to offer scholarships. She has continued to demonstrate her power potential this season with five home runs, including one against Huntington Beach Marina at Barber Park in Irvine that rolled some 400 feet.

"She hit it as far and as hard as I've seen in my life," Coach Dennis Fox said.

Dedmon, 5 feet 8, forces pitchers to make good pitches if they expect to get her out.

"I was always taught to relax and attack," she said. "Take your hacks. You're not going to hit a ball if you don't swing. I just go up looking for my pitch. If it's not there, I won't swing. I've always been a patient hitter. I don't chase balls."

For Kristen and her 14-year-old brother, Corey, life revolves around sports. Their mother, Wilma, and father have been married for 20 years. Jeff was a hotshot pitcher who graduated from Harbor City Narbonne High in 1977. Wilma was a Carson High graduate going to USC who hated baseball when they met at a party.

"Everybody kept going, 'That's Jeff Dedmon, the baseball player,'" Wilma said. "I said, 'OK.' His best friend came over and spilled beer on me."

His friend got Wilma's phone number for Jeff and the two became partners for life. They survived the uncertain years of the minor leagues, with a stop in Durham, N.C., among other places.

"It's true--he rode that bus, I sat at that ballpark and I can tell you many Durham Bulls stories," Wilma said.

At 23, Jeff made it to the major leagues as a relief pitcher for the Braves. He pitched from 1983-87 and for the Cleveland Indians in 1988. Then it was over and time to focus on raising his family. The Dedmons have lived in Yorba Linda for 16 years.

Wilma runs a law office in Van Nuys. Jeff became an X-ray technician and coach for his children.

With three pitchers in the family, Wilma thinks there's a conspiracy to make her a nervous wreck.

"They load the bases and it's like they do it to drive me crazy," she said. "Then they strike out three in a row."

Jeff is learning that trying to stay calm while watching his children compete in sports can be more difficult than pitching in the major leagues.

"For me, it's always nerve-racking watching them play," he said. "You're still a parent, no matter if you played or not. It's payback for the years my dad did it for me."

During the summer, when Kristen competes in club softball, the Dedmons travel across the country. Every weekend is booked with softball games through the second week of August. It's a sacrifice they make so their daughter can fulfill her dreams.

"I love it," Kristen said. "I love the feeling of competition, knowing I'm going up against some of the best players in the country."

Corey is an outgoing eighth-grader who loves to skateboard and pitch, but his mother is most impressed with his interest in becoming a lawyer.

"My son tells me we're going to open a law firm together and he's going to fetch me coffee," Wilma said.

If Wilma had her way, Kristen would end up at her alma mater, USC.

"Oh, yes, she would be a Trojan all the way," she said.

But USC doesn't have a softball program, clearing the way for many of the nation's top softball teams to take a crack at recruiting her.

She started this season by losing her first three games, hindered by blisters on her toes. But her pitching and hitting are picking up for Esperanza (12-7), and that's bad news for opponents.

"I'm back on track," she said.

Kristen was too young to remember dressing in a tiny Braves' uniform or seeing her father pitch, but she understands the commitment he made to reach the top of his profession, and she wants to do the same in softball.

"He'll tell me about his experience, and I'll try to relate it to my game," she said. "I know it's going to be a lot of work, but I'm willing to put forth the effort to succeed."

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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