It's astounding that people have paid me for some 35 years to watch and report on high school sports. It's more privilege than job because there's nothing like chronicling the stories and accomplishments of teenage athletes in Southern California, where future college and professional icons are raised and tutored.
I witnessed another moment of wonder Friday night at Dodger Stadium. There was Rio Ruiz, an extraordinary baseball-football standout at La Puente Bishop Amat, hitting a two-run home run into the seats down the right-field line in the third inning, then touching home plate and pointing his fingers toward the sky as a salute to Austin Lacy, his former football teammate who died earlier in the day at the age of 18 of an undisclosed illness.
"That was for Austin," Ruiz said.
Life is about resiliency and performing at your best against the best, and that's what the Lancers did against Palm Desert in the Southern Section Division 4 championship game, winning, 7-0.
It was Bishop Amat's eighth section title and ended any debate about who's the best team in Southern California for 2011.
From Jay Anderson's two-run triple to Daniel Zamora's 6 2/3 innings of scoreless pitching, the Lancers (29-4) stated their case in clear and convincing fashion, dominating a Palm Desert team (28-5) that had beaten them, 5-1, in the opening game of the season in March.
And then there was that poignant moment with Ruiz, the quarterback for the football team who used to play with Lacy, a linebacker who left school in the fall and transferred to Pasadena.
"That whole time rounding the bases, I remembered Austin Lacy," Ruiz said. "We were family when he was at our school. Getting that home run and pointing up to the sky knowing he was looking down on us … he's with the angels now."
I've seen many great athletes through the years, and Ruiz belongs on the list. He's a future first-round draft pick in baseball, but he refuses not to enjoy every minute of his high school days. People have told him to give up football to protect his potential million-dollar baseball signing bonus.
His answer is that come Monday, he'll be starting football practice for his senior year.
"That was one of my dreams, to finish football through high school," Ruiz said.
Ryan Garvey, the son of former Dodgers great Steve Garvey, was on the losing team Friday, but there he was on the same field that his father starred on. Tom Lasorda dropped by to give Ryan Garvey and Palm Desert a pregame pep talk. The son had a double in the first inning. And the father soaked up the scene.
"At the age of six weeks, we first brought Ryan to Dodger Stadium, and it's been a wonderful journey ever since over these 18 years," Steve Garvey said. "This is like a second home, not only for the family, but to Ryan. He knows all the vendors and ushers, Uncle Tommy, and all the players through the years."
The dream of father and son is to return to Dodger Stadium.
"God willing, he'll have a chance to come and play again," the father said.
Writing about teenagers trying to fulfill their dreams — is there anything better?