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Trip to Dodger Stadium is the ultimate reward for prep baseball finalists

Dreams come true this weekend for 10 high school teams vying for five championships on the same field where the big leaguers play.

June 01, 2012|Eric Sondheimer
  • El Camino Real players pile it on after winning the 2010 City championship with a seventh-inning rally at Dodger Stadium.
El Camino Real players pile it on after winning the 2010 City championship… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)

On June 14, 1982, Bret Saberhagen threw the first and only no-hitter in the now 43-year history of the City Section championship game at Dodger Stadium.

"Who knew I would ever get a chance to play again in a major league stadium?" Saberhagen said by phone this week. "That's the big thing we looked at as kids. It's a special moment. Everyone wants to go to Dodger Stadium to play in the championship."

Thirty years ago Saberhagen was 18, a senior at Reseda Cleveland and pitching against Palisades, a team that included a player named Steve Kerr, now known for his vocabulary and NBA knowledge.

Cleveland won, 13-0. Saberhagen went on to win two American League Cy Young Awards and pitch 16 years in the major leagues. When he runs into former high school teammates, the game always becomes a topic of discussion.

"We reminisce about that time, and it's something they always cherish," Saberhagen said.

The opportunity to play at Dodger Stadium has special significance for kids who grew up in Southern California. There's so much history and imagination unleashed for the participants, whether sitting in the dugouts, peering up into the stands or looking up at the scoreboard.

That's why the three Southern Section championship games Friday at Dodger Stadium and the two City finals there Saturday are unlike any other championship events.

There was one dog pile after another in the Southern Section semifinals for the teams that earned trips to Dodger Stadium.

"It's nice playing on a big league field," Newbury Park pitcher Luke Eubank said. "How many people can say they did that?"

"I've been there one time," Corona pitcher Pat Duarte said. "I never thought I'd be able to pitch there in my life, but the opportunity is coming, and I'm really excited."

Eubank and Duarte take the mound Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Southern Section Division 1 final, two teenagers fulfilling dreams and fantasies, playing in front of family and friends with a championship on the line.

John Gonzalez is a freshman first baseman for Corona. He has been so excited during the playoffs that he pumps his fist after getting a hit. He looks young enough to be in junior high. But he'll be standing in the batter's box at Dodger Stadium come Friday night.

"Never in my life could I have ever imagined a dream like this come true," he said.

I was there 30 years ago for Saberhagen's no-hitter. It's still the greatest individual prep performance I've seen. I remember an argument in the parking lot afterward over who was going to drive him to do a TV interview on Channel 4.

Time goes by fast, but the magic of playing at Dodger Stadium hasn't changed.

The starting pitcher for Woodland Hills El Camino Real against Chatsworth in the City championship game will be junior Owen Perry, a left-hander who's as comfortable riding waves at C Street Beach in Ventura as facing down hitters.

He had no idea he'd be standing on the mound Saturday.

"I didn't really think I was going to be able to do that this year," he said. "But here I am."

So let's leave it up to the surfer dude to offer the ultimate description of what it means to play at Dodger Stadium.

"I think it's real cool," he said.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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