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World Series

Prep Work

Giants' Ortiz and Angels' Fullmer, teammates in high school, finally get another shot at a title after being denied in 1992

October 20, 2002|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Long before they could enjoy the splendor of the World Series, Brad Fullmer and Russ Ortiz had to endure the nadir of exclusion from the Southern Section playoffs.

Fullmer, an Angel designated hitter, and Ortiz, a San Francisco Giant starting pitcher, were teammates at Van Nuys Montclair Prep, a small private school in the San Fernando Valley that won section titles in 1990 and '91.

In 1992, Montclair Prep had one of its best teams, with the slugging Fullmer and the hard-throwing Ortiz leading the way. Ortiz, a senior bound for Oklahoma, and Fullmer, a junior preparing to supplant Ortiz as team leader, seemed like strong candidates to guide the Mounties to a third consecutive championship.

But they never got the chance.

Montclair Prep was barred from postseason play in all sports during the 1991-92 school year after admitting to recruiting violations in the football program. Most of the violations were committed during the 1985 football season -- when Fullmer and Ortiz were in elementary school -- touching off legal action by the baseball team.

The team suffered two more indignities during the last week of the season. First came the denial of a temporary restraining order, which would have allowed them to compete in the playoffs. Then came the season finale.

Montclair Prep was scheduled to end its season at Sierra Madre Maranatha, but when the Mounties arrived, only eight players had shown up for Maranatha. The game was forfeited even though Montclair Prep offered to allow its opponent the use of a player. The Mounties finished the season 18-5-1.

"It was very frustrating," said Ortiz, the right-hander who is scheduled to start Game 2 for the Giants tonight at Edison Field. "All year you work hard and play to go to the playoffs. But we knew that no matter how well we did, we weren't going to have the opportunity to do that."

Ten years later Ortiz and Fullmer are playing postseason baseball at the highest level -- against each other.

"I never thought we'd be here, both playing in the World Series," said Fullmer, who went into the World Series batting .316 in the postseason with three doubles, a home run and four runs batted in. "But you have to put personal feelings aside here. This is about business, this is about getting a ring.

"It's not my favorite thing to face guys I'm friends with, but I already got that out of the way with him."

Fullmer played against Ortiz as a member of the Montreal Expos in the late 1990s, going one for six. "It was kind of a push," Fullmer said. "I got a cheapie off him, and he got me out a few times.

"I don't have any secrets [to hitting Ortiz]. He throws hard, he comes right at you. We're going to have to go up there and swing the bats."

Ortiz is 2-0 this postseason, registering both victories against Atlanta in the National League division series. The 28-year-old did not fare as well in his start against St. Louis in the NL championship series, giving up four runs -- all earned -- and five hits in 4 2/3 innings to earn a no-decision.

"You can't expect to have a good outing every single time," said Ortiz, who went 14-10 with a 3.61 earned-run average in the regular season. "The biggest thing is just giving the best effort. So I went out there and gave the best effort I could for that day. I'm pretty pleased with how I'm throwing and everything feels great."

Walt Steele, who coached Ortiz and Fullmer at Montclair Prep, has not been surprised by his former players' rise to prominence considering the talent and work ethic they exhibited in high school.

"Russ used to love to throw his cage sessions to Brad," Steele said. "They had that competitiveness."

When Montclair Prep's 1992 season ended prematurely, Ortiz continued lifting weights and throwing off the mound to anyone who would catch him. Fullmer wore out the batting cage near his home, trying to improve on a junior season in which he hit 10 home runs and struck out only twice.

The extra work paid off in Fullmer's senior year when he set a season school record with 15 home runs. He turned down a scholarship from Stanford to sign with Montreal after setting records at Montclair Prep with a .508 average, 30 home runs and 130 RBIs.

Ortiz moved on to Oklahoma, where he was a three-year standout before being drafted by the Giants after his junior season.

The quiet, reserved Ortiz and brash Fullmer -- who sports a tattoo on his right arm depicting an undead creature next to the words "Can't Break Me" -- present a contrast in styles. Yet they were close friends who stayed in touch after high school, dining with each other after major league games, until finding themselves in different leagues when Toronto acquired Fullmer before the 2000 season.

Since then the friends have kept up through their Southern California relatives, including Fullmer's mother Judy, an administrator at Montclair Prep.

"I see how he's doing in the papers and I'm sure he does too," Ortiz said.

Said Fullmer: "I haven't talked to him in a while so we're going to have to catch up. It's going to be fun."

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