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High Schools | BASEBALL REPORT

There's a Big Surprise in Sizing Up Ramires

May 12, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

The snickers start as soon as Otoniel Ramires takes the mound for Los Angeles Crenshaw. They stop when he starts striking out batters and forcing them into weak grounders.

Ramires is listed at 4 feet 11 and 100 pounds, although height might be the only thing lacking for the junior pitcher and second baseman.

He speaks softly and carries a small bat -- 27 inches, 26 ounces -- but Ramires' recent return from a back injury has sparked a late-season rally that could land the Cougars a playoff spot.

Ramires drove in six runs in a 25-1 victory over L.A. Manual Arts last Monday and had a run-scoring single in the first inning in a 6-5 victory over first-place L.A. Locke last Thursday. He also pitched three innings against Locke and did not give up any earned runs.

"When he's on the mound, people see him and say things like, 'Hey, we're going to hit this guy,' " said third baseman Jairo Burciaga. "But he gets out there and strikes people out. After the game, they'll be like, 'Good pitching.' "

Ramires, who said he is now slightly over 5 feet tall, shrugs off the jokes, the one-liners. He has his own response.

"I just laugh at it," he said.

Assistant coach Derrick Hill, a science teacher at Crenshaw, wasn't laughing a couple of years ago when he dropped by the school on a random Saturday to work on his curriculum. He was surprised to see Ramires there, working out with a friend. He wondered what the kid was doing.

Then he realized how important it was for Ramires to field extra grounders, to take as many cuts in the batter's box as possible, to do whatever it took to overcome his apparent height disadvantage.

"If we had nine of him, we'd be in Dodger Stadium every year," Hill said, alluding to the annual site of the City Section championship game.

At times, Ramires has had to stand tall off the field.

He has had little contact with his father and lives with his mother, Sharon Pina. He has found a fatherly figure in Crenshaw junior varsity coach Dwight James. The two have been friends since James was Ramires' Little League coach.

"I guess I'm pretty much like a father to him," James said. "I don't want to see a kid like that get lost to the streets. He's got a lot of heart. He wants to go to college and maybe the pros someday."

For now, Ramires will be satisfied with a playoff appearance.

The Cougars have always had top-notch teams in basketball, but baseball is a different story. Ever since Darryl Strawberry graduated in 1980, the Cougars have almost always struggled in the playoffs, if they qualified.

This season, Crenshaw is 8-19, 5-7 in Coliseum League play. Last season, the Cougars were disqualified from the playoffs because of ineligible players.

Said Ramires: "It would be real important for us to make playoffs this year, especially after what happened last year. That's what we want right now."

*

They have them at tournaments as gimmicks, fun sideshows to see who can hit the most home runs.

The Agoura baseball team held a home run derby Saturday for a more serious reason -- to raise funds for outfielder Brandon Quinn, who was diagnosed with leukemia a little more than a month ago.

Quinn, a junior who was hitting over .500 when he was diagnosed, has had chemotherapy treatments three times a week in his effort to thwart the disease.

Players from more than 15 schools participated in the home run derby, as did players from schools that were farther away -- Chatsworth and Riverside Arlington, to name two.

Donations will be used to offset medical costs and to start a college fund for Quinn. More than $20,000 has been raised in the last three weeks.

"Some people have donated $500 or $1,000 on the spot without even knowing Brandon," said family friend Steve Rivetti. "Some people do things to get attention. In this case, almost everyone is doing things for the right reasons."

Rivetti said Quinn had received phone calls from Dodger catcher Paul Lo Duca and Angel pitcher Scott Schoeneweis. Others have donated a bed, an air purifier and a laptop computer.

"It wouldn't be a stretch to say that 150 to 200 people have done charitable and generous acts," Rivetti said.

*

The talent pool at Cerritos Gahr was usually strong in Tom Bergeron's tenure, although it has dried up in recent years, slowing to a trickle in some seasons.

It didn't matter. Gahr still won plenty of games and plenty of league titles.

Kids will come and go, but the Gladiators are losing the reason for their success since the early 1970s. Bergeron, 64, is retiring at the end of the season, leaving behind 32 seasons at Gahr. His overall record of 626-262 includes six seasons as Downey Warren's coach.

Along the way, Bergeron won 19 league championships and coached six future major league players, Shane Mack, Tom Nieto and Bret Barberie among them.

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