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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

Pitching Under Pressure Is a Ball, Simon Says

April 23, 2002|Eric Sondheimer

Adam Simon thrives on pressure. He's the teenager who rides the fastest roller coaster and instead of feeling terrified, steps out of the car and says, "Cool!"

When the bases are loaded and the count is 3 and 2, it's Simon time. He never shows any sign of panic. His heart isn't pounding, his hands aren't sweating, his breathing doesn't become rapid, shallow or erratic.

"When those times come up, that's when I start having the most fun, especially when you get the big out," he said. "You feel so complete."

Simon, a senior right-hander at La Puente Bishop Amat High, is the most complete baseball player in Southern California. He has a three-year pitching record of 22-1. This season, he's 8-0 with a 1.58 earned-run average. He also leads the Lancers in batting with a .559 average.

"If you take the best pitchers in high school and line them up from here to the other coast, I'll take Adam," Coach Kenny Kendrena said.

Simon is 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds, throws a fastball more than 90 mph and has an unbreakable competitive spirit.

"His mind is made up when he gets on the mound that it's going to be his day," Kendrena said.

If only Simon could convince his mother, Susan, to relax during games.

"I'll step off the mound, look around and see her walking around," Simon said.

Said Susan: "I do pace and I've been doing it since he was 7. I'm just in wonderment how he does what he does."

Simon benefits from playing for a team that doesn't make many errors and rarely loses.

Last season, the Lancers finished 27-2 and won the Southern Section Division IV championship. This season, they are 17-2, have won 15 consecutive games and are ranked No. 1 in Southern California by The Times.

"It is easy to be comfortable when you have a defense like ours," he said. "I don't have to worry about striking everyone out when you know they're going to make the plays."

Simon was a two-year starting receiver for the Lancer football team. Many high school baseball players with professional aspirations quit football for fear of injury. Simon never gave it a thought.

"It was about having fun and being with my friends," he said.

Simon has been greatly influenced by his parents. His mother runs a summer program at Occidental College designed to introduce low-income high school students to college life. His father, Barron, drives an MTA bus. Together, they have pushed education and achievement.

"I think my parents brought me up the best way they could," he said. "They taught me to be myself. If [people] don't want to accept me for who I am, that's their loss."

Simon learned early on about the ramifications of not trying his best. Bringing home a C on his report card produced an immediate response from his parents.

"I'd get things taken away, privileges like going out to play or talking on the phone," he said. "They got their point across."

Simon had a 3.5 grade-point average last semester and has signed with UCLA. His roommate at college figures to be Lancer football player Wesley Walker.

Simon is expected to be selected in the June amateur draft, but his lack of height remains a concern to some scouts.

"I asked myself, 'What can I do other than go out and play?' " he said. "The question I ask is, 'Would you want a 6-6 tall, lanky right-hander who can't do anything or a 5-11, 170-pound right-hander who can play more than one position?' "

Simon lives right behind Bishop Amat's football field. He's so close to campus that he stays in bed until 7:45 a.m., gets dressed, eats breakfast, hustles to his car and still makes it to school by the time the bell rings at 8:05 a.m.

"I think he gets up literally five minutes before homeroom," Susan said. "I don't think he's walked to school one day in his life. With my son, there are some things that defy explanation."

One of the greatest athletic moments for Simon came last season, when Bishop Amat defeated Ridgecrest Burroughs, 8-0, in the Division IV final at Dodger Stadium. Simon was in center field on the final out.

"I just ran in and jumped on top of the pitcher and everyone fell on top of me," he said. "I remember being on the bottom and we were laughing and screaming. It was like we were little kids again."

In a matter of weeks, Simon's high school career will be over. He'll move on, probably to college, but always pointing toward his goal of reaching the major leagues.

"I think I'm ready to leave, but at the same time, you don't want to leave your friends," he said. "But it's for the best."

Simon's sister is graduating this spring from Occidental College. Then Simon will be out the door too.

"I'm not going to be sad because he's going to be in Westwood," Susan said. "I found a great pacing spot at UCLA."

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

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