Milwaukee's Ryan Braun rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home… (Chris Lee / MCT )
At a time of teacher layoffs, budget cuts and constant uncertainty in the Los Angeles Unified School District, four members of the National League Central Division champion Milwaukee Brewers are creating excitement and pride at their old City Section high schools.
And maybe providing something resembling a local rooting interest in the Major League Baseball playoffs.
Outfielder Ryan Braun and pitcher Kameron Loe played for Granada Hills High. Pitchers Randy Wolf and Marco Estrada played for Woodland Hills El Camino Real and Sylmar. Each was an All-City selection in high school, though not all of them enjoyed a fast track to the big leagues.
However they made it, their example has given current players at those schools something to strive for. "They see it can happen for them," Sylmar Coach Ray Rivera said. "It's something to be proud of."
Braun has been an All-Star the last four seasons, and with a .332 batting average, 33 home runs, 111 runs batted in and 33 stolen bases this year, he is a leading candidate for most-valuable-player honors in the National League.
But even with a busy schedule before this season started, he found time to visit Granada Hills and talk to current Highlanders players.
"It was an awesome experience," Granada Hills pitcher Nathaniel Pyle said. "He's such a great guy. His message was, 'Always listen to your coaches and work hard.' "
Former El Camino Real coach Mike Maio, 72, watches Wolf pitch on television and the memories come rushing back from 1993 and 1994, when the left-handed pitcher and hitter led the Conquistadores to consecutive City championships at Dodger Stadium.
"I didn't teach him anything about baseball, but he made everyone around him better," Maio said. "He let his work speak for itself. He's a great kid. I still get excited about him and still get a tear in my eyes when I see him."
Hal Kurtzman, an area scout who has been watching high school players in the City Section for the Arizona Diamondbacks since 1995, said he remembers Braun, Loe and Estrada.
"I always look back when kids do well and ask, 'What did you think of them?' " he said. "I liked Braun, but not enough to buy him out of Miami," where he played college ball for three years. "I remember the moon shots he hit at Blair Field in Long Beach and Granada Hills. I was not sure what he'd do defensively. Now it's 'Oh, my gosh.'
"Estrada was a little guy. He competed and threw strikes like 100 other right-handers. I remember seeing Kameron as a ninth-grader and he was this tall kid who threw 79-80 mph. He developed."
Braun graduated from Granada Hills in 2002 and became an All-American at Miami. Loe graduated from Granada Hills in 1999 and went to Cal State Northridge. Wolf was a two-time City Section player of the year and went to Pepperdine. Estrada spent three years on junior varsity at Sylmar before going 9-1 his senior year in 2001, then attending Glendale College and Long Beach State.
Granada Hills Coach Steve Thompson coached Braun and Loe.
"Honestly, I knew he could play at the next level in college," Thompson said of Braun. "What he's done is beyond expectations. He's just a tremendous athlete. Kameron has matured as a pitcher. He's figured it out."
Thompson and Braun still communicate, and the coach sent his former player a congratulatory text message this year when Braun joined baseball's exclusive 30-30 club, with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a season.
Sylmar players are following Estrada, a relief pitcher who was claimed off waivers from the Washington Nationals and soon could be pitching in the World Series. And Loe, a 20th-round draft pick from Northridge in 2002, has come back to the majors after playing in Japan in 2009.
El Camino Real retired Wolf's uniform number several years ago. He came out to the alumni game last year.
Thompson said his players are asking a trivia question: "Has there ever been a high school that produced an NFL MVP and a National League MVP?"
Granada Hills alumnus John Elway was the NFL's MVP as quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Now with Braun as a top candidate for baseball's award, Highlanders athletes are swelling with pride.
"It's great to see," Thompson said.