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January 22, 2013

Western Front

Pacific Surfliner

by Geoff Young

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Everyone starts somewhere and ends up somewhere else. This is what my wife tells me when I ask her for an angle. “Place matters,” she says.

It is Saturday in January, my wife's birthday. Like Barry Zito going from high school to college, we start in San Diego and end up in Santa Barbara. We will not continue north to the Bay Area because our train does not go that far.

According to Wikipedia, “railroad” means “To run into and knock over the catcher when running home from third base, or to run into a first-baseman when running from home to first.” This is news to me, but then, Wikipedia tells me many things I did not know. Some of them are even true.

We are on the Pacific Surfliner, which spans 350 miles from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, stopping at various points along the way. This is a popular and profitable train, carrying nearly 2.8 million passengers during fiscal year 2011 and generating more than $55 million in revenue. That is more people than attended games of all but 12 MLB teams in 2011. It's about what the Diamondbacks spent on players that year if you gave them one more guy making league minimum.

This train might not win championships, but it will compete. And it will take people somewhere else.

We have no interest in knocking over the catcher when running home from third base. We desire only safe passage via what other sources call “a track or set of tracks made of steel rails along which passenger and freight trains run.”

Are the tracks made of steel? I could ask the conductor.

We leave from Solana Beach, the second stop, along the coast of San Diego's North County. For the next five hours, this railroad will be our home.

Another definition is to “press (someone) into doing something by rushing or coercing them.” There is no coercion. We are doing this of our own volition, in as much as my obsession with travel constitutes free will.

No catchers, no coercion, just rails that are probably made of steel.

* * *

The first stop is Oceanside, which is known for its football (Willie Buchanon and the late Junior Seau played here), but which has produced a few baseball players. Chris Chambliss, who attended Oceanside High School and MiraCosta College is the most notable among them. Another MiraCosta product is former Padres and current Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers.

A group of middle-aged women board the train and sit near us. They are also headed to Santa Barbara, and we will see them again on the return trip this evening.

They aren't middle-aged. They are older than that. I am middle-aged. Place matters, but so does time. Perspective changes, like railroad tracks disappearing into the horizon.

* * *

The train keeps on chooglin' along the coast to San Juan Capistrano, a town named after a mission founded in 1776 and home to the oldest residential neighborhood in California. It is also home to Padres top prospect Austin Hedges and a player named Trent Boras.

Boras was picked by the Brewers in the 30th round of the 2011 draft but chose instead to attend USC. Zito also attended USC, after transferring from UC Santa Barbara (he reportedly played shortstop and left field in an alumni game) via Los Angeles Pierce College. Zito is represented by agent Scott Boras, father of Trent.

* * *

We pass Laguna Niguel, where the train sometimes—not today—makes a stop. Skip Schumaker played high school ball not far from here. He also attended UC Santa Barbara and competed against fellow Gaucho Michael Young in the 2011 World Series. Young and Zito had faced each other in the previous season's World Series.

* * *

Today's run goes straight to Irvine, where Bob Hamelin and Garrett Atkins played high school ball. Both later attended UCLA.

Chambliss also spent time in Westwood after transferring from MiraCosta. He later gained fame as first baseman for the 1977 and 1978 World Champion Yankees. He left New York after the 1979 season and spent seven years in Atlanta.

After sitting out all of 1987, Chambliss returned to the Yankees the following year and had one at-bat. On May 8, 1988, he batted for shortstop Rafael Santana in the eighth inning of a game against the Texas Rangers. Chambliss struck out looking and was replaced in the lineup by Bobby Meacham.

* * *

Meacham went to Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, our next stop. He later attended San Diego State and is credited with convincing then-coach Jim Dietz to give some kid he'd played against in Connie Mack ball a shot. The kid's name was Tony Gwynn. A teammate of Gwynn's on the 1984 Padres World Series team, Garry Templeton, played at neighboring Santa Ana Valley High School.

Heath Bell played at Santa Ana College. Its notable alumni include Diane Keaton (who also attended Santa Ana High School, where former Gwynn teammate Billy Bean played baseball) and banjo picker Steve Martin.

* * *

The ride from Santa Ana to Orange takes us through industrial areas. We have veered from the coast. The older-than-middle-aged women are laughing, and a college-aged woman is talking to friends on her cell phone. She has a lot of friends.

Orange is the location of Chapman University. Tim Flannery played here. He later played with Gwynn on the 1984 Padres, backing up Templeton at shortstop. Much later, Flannery became third-base coach for the Giants and earned two rings alongside Zito, a fellow guitarist.

Another Chapman product was left-handed pitcher Gary Lucas. He would play with the Flannery and the Padres from 1980 to 1983. After a two-year stint in Montreal, Lucas returned to Southern California as a member of the Angels. That team, despite what Arte Moreno's grasp of geography might lead you to believe, plays in Anaheim.

* * *

Angel Stadium: Not in Los Angeles

Lucas should not be confused with the guitarist of the same name. That Gary Lucas used to play with Jeff Buckley, who attended high school in Anaheim, our next stop.

The train station lies at the far side of the Angel Stadium parking lot. It is empty now, although on the return trip it will be filled with people watching something called Supercross, which is an event best described as “not baseball.” The Pacific Surfliner is a great way to get to a ballgame if you are coming from out of town, say from San Diego or Los Angeles.

Of course, the Angels used to claim all of California as its own, so maybe Los Angeles isn't so bad. In 1989, when they were still the California Angels, Glenn Hoffman played for the team. He attended high school seven miles from Angel Stadium. His father, Ed, was an usher at the ballpark. Ed also occasionally sang the National Anthem before Angels games.

Ed had another son named Trevor, who played alongside Gwynn in the 1998 World Series. When Trevor Hoffman retired, a video of his late father singing the National Anthem played. The video is from Opening Day 1981 at Fenway Park. Ed sang because Glenn, who started at shortstop and batted seventh that day, had a clause in his contract that said he would.

Trevor, meanwhile, became MLB's all-time saves leader as closer for the San Diego Padres. When he left for Milwaukee after the 2008 season, Hoffman was replaced by Bell.

* * *

Two former teammates of Hoffman hail from Fullerton, our next stop. Phil Nevin was the first pick overall out of Cal State Fullerton in 1992, famously taken ahead of Derek Jeter, who succeeded Tony Fernandez as shortstop of the Yankees. Fernandez was a teammate of Gwynn in 1991 and 1992.

A decade later, Gwynn played with another Cal State Fullerton product, Mark Kotsay. The Marlins took Kotsay with the ninth pick overall in 1996, just ahead of Eric Chavez, who attended the same San Diego high school that produced Greg Bochy (son of big-league manager Bruce Bochy, who played with Flannery and later employed him as a coach for the Padres and Giants), current Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley, and A's GM Billy Beane (not to be confused with Santa Ana's Billy Bean, although both played for the Tigers Triple-A affiliate in Toledo in 1988).

* * *

Los Angeles: Not where the Angels play

At Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, the train turns around so that passengers who had been on the west side are now on the east side. We cross the aisle and return to the west side. This will come in handy later, when the coast re-emerges an hour and a half from now.

Players to come out of Los Angeles proper? You'd need a book for that.

Meanwhile, Glendale arrives. Babe Herman played here, graduating from Glendale High School in 1920 before collecting more than 1,800 big-league hits. Five years after Herman graduated, Marion Morrison did the same. An airport in Santa Ana was later named after Morrison, using his stage name of John Wayne.

* * *

From Glendale we go to Burbank, whose high schools yielded Jeff Cirillo and Freddy Sanchez, not to mention film director Tim Burton and guitarist Randy Rhoads. Burbank, which has an airport named after Bob Hope (who once was part owner of the Cleveland Indians), also gave us several familiar faces from '70s and '80s sitcoms: Vic Tayback (Mel from “Alice”), Kim Fields (Tootie from “Facts of Life”), Anson Williams (Potsie from “Happy Days”).

* * *

Another popular TV show during that period was “The Brady Bunch.” Don Drysdale, who played high school ball near our next stop of Van Nuys, appeared in a second-season episode called “The Dropout.” He also pitched for the Dodgers and is in the Hall of Fame.

A classmate of Drysdale's (though not, as has been reported, a teammate) at Van Nuys High School was Robert Redford, who gained fame as an actor through roles such as Roy Hobbs in The Natural, a baseball movie that undid the ending of a book that I loved. Redford also, I am reminded by a friend on Twitter, never appeared on “The Brady Bunch.”

A different Van Nuys high school produced the late Rod Beck, who served as closer for the Padres in 2003 while Hoffman was recovering from elbow surgery. Beck's teammates included Fullerton's Kotsay and, briefly, Anaheim's Jaret Wright.

* * *

Another of Beck's teammates was Jason Bay, whom Towers acquired from the Mets for Steve Reed, a submarining right-hander. Reed attended Chatsworth High School, in the eponymous town that is our next stop. He was there after Dwight Evans, but before Matt Dominguez and Mike Moustakas.

An uncle and aunt of mine once lived here. When they moved to Texas, my wife and I—who weren't yet married—Inherited one of their cats. That was 1993, the year Trevor Hoffman came to the Padres. Dominguez was 4 years old, Moustakas was 5.

Another high school in Chatsworth featured Brad Fullmer and Russ Ortiz in the early '90s. They later faced each other in the 2002 World Series, which resulted in the team from Anaheim (still correctly identified as being from Anaheim at that time) winning it all. Fullmer knocked an RBI single off Ortiz in the first inning of a crazy Game Two that the Angels won, 11-10.

In Game Six, Ortiz retired Fullmer his first two times up. Then, with one on and one out in the seventh, Fullmer singled to right. With the Giants holding a 5-0 lead in the game and a 3-2 lead in the series, Ortiz was removed. The next batter homered, and the Angels came back to win, 6-5. They won again the next night and secured the franchise's first title.

* * *

Between Chatsworth and Simi Valley, three long train tunnels run through the Santa Susana Mountains. The longest spans 7,369 feet and was completed in 1904, before Herman's first birthday.

Past the tunnels there is a softball field. Folks are warming up this morning for a game. Jeff Weaver once played baseball near here. So did his younger brother, Jered, who was drafted by the Angels in 2004 when Towers and the Padres shifted gears at the last minute (because Weaver and Stephen Drew, their top two choices, were represented by Boras) and decided to take San Diego native Matt Bush with the first pick overall.

* * *

We don't stop in Moorpark on the way up but will on the return trip. Although Moorpark College's Gabe Kapler never faced Jered in the big leagues, he went 2-for-10 with three strikeouts against Jeff.

Kapler played with Gwynn's son, also named Tony, for the Brewers in 2008. Tony Gwynn Jr. was known as Anthony in college, where he played under his father. Tony Jr. also used to hang out in the Padres locker room as a kid, messing around with the players, including Trevor Hoffman, against whom he later hit a memorable triple to help ruin Hoffman's final season in San Diego.

* * *

A teammate of Tony Jr. and Kapler in 2008 was Rickie Weeks, taken with the second pick in the 2003 amateur draft. The first pick was Delmon Young, who played in Camarillo, our next stop. Young isn't the biggest disappointment to come from here. That would be Joe Borchard, who was taken by the Orioles in the 20th round in 1997 but spurned them to play football at Stanford. When the White Sox took Borchard with the 12th pick in 2000, they gave him $5.3 million to forget about the gridiron.

Unfortunately, that is not all he forgot. In 800 career plate appearances, Borchard hit .205/.284/.352.

* * *

There is a Borchard Road in Oxnard named after a local family of farmers that immigrated to the area from Germany in the 1870s. Joe is a distant relative of theirs.

Others to hail from Oxnard are Terry Pendleton, Ken McMullen, Paul McAnulty (drafted by Towers and regarded so highly by the Padres that they once misspelled his name on a jersey), and Delmon Young's older brother, Dmitri. In 2003, Dmitri played with Eric Munson (a high school teammate of Chavez) on one of the worst teams in history, a Tigers squad managed by San Diegan Alan Trammell.

Trammell abused his hometown Padres as a member of the Tigers in the 1984 World Series. After his playing days, he would return to San Diego as first-base coach under Greg Bochy's dad. The third-base coach was Flannery.

* * *

Near Ventura, where a pro baseball team ought to be

From Oxnard, it's a short jaunt to Ventura. We can see ocean again, and I wonder why the California League has abandoned the coast. A team played here from 1947 to 1949 as the Yankees, from 1950 to 1952 as the Braves, and in 1953 as the Oilers. Only a few guys from those teams reached the big leagues. One was Bobby Sturgeon, who played for the Ventura Braves in 1952. He attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, same as Tony Gwynn Sr. decades later.

After a 33-year absence, pro baseball returned to the area in the form of the Ventura County Gulls. The team went 75-67 and placed two players on the league All-Star team, outfielder Geronimo Berroa and catcher Greg Myers. Eleven years later, Towers would sign Myers, who hit a dramatic but ultimately meaningless home run in Game Five of the NLCS against Atlanta in 1998.

The Gulls, who had relocated from Lodi (where those chooglin' CCR boys once got stuck), spent one season in Ventura. Unfortunately, attendance and other issues (the field was a mess, no night games) kept them from returning for an encore. McMullen had helped bring the team there, but eventually he and the other owners sold it to a group in San Bernardino. In 2000, the team currently located in Stockton threatened a move to Ventura, but it never happened.

* * *

Our next stop is Carpinteria. Nobody played here.

* * *

Today's train goes as far as Goleta, but we disembark at the penultimate stop, Santa Barbara. Like Ventura, Santa Barbara is a mission town that has California League experience. The Saints played here in 1941 and 1942. From 1946 to 1953, it was the Dodgers. In 1962 and 1963, the Rancheros came; then it was back to the Dodgers in 1964 until their final season in 1967.

A 19-year-old Sparky Anderson made his professional debut for the Santa Barbara Dodgers in 1953. Six years earlier, an 18-year-old Dick Williams did the same. Both would later win multiple World Series as managers and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Another Hall of Famer, Eddie Mathews, played high school ball here. So did Jesse Orosco, who won World Series titles with the Mets in 1986 and Dodgers in 1988. Towers signed a 46-year-old Orosco before the 2003 season. He spent a few months with the Padres, playing alongside Beck, Hoffman, Kotsay, and Wright.

Orosco's son, also named Jesse, attended Grossmont College in San Diego. That's where Marcus Giles went to school. Towers acquired Marcus' older brother, Brian, in a trade for Bay, who had been acquired for a guy from Chatsworth.

The Diamondbacks selected Jesse Jr. in the 38th round of the 2008 draft. His career in the organization consisted of 18 relief appearances. Towers, then still GM of the Padres, picked him up after Arizona released him in 2009. Jesse Jr. got into eight games for San Diego's Rookie-ball team.

He spent parts of 2009 to 2011 in four different Indy leagues. Orosco's combined totals: 32 G, 39 IP, 9.69 ERA. He did not pitch anywhere last season. Like us, he had reached the end of his line. As usual, my wife is right. Place matters.

There is no green flash, but if you look closely, you might see the face of Jesse Orosco.

6 comments have been left for this article.

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