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West Ranch baseball's Tony Slauson has made a name for himself on varsity

Posted: April 28, 2013 8:23 p.m.
Updated: April 28, 2013 8:23 p.m.

Tony Slauson got a chance to showcase his talents late in the summer of his junior year. He made the most of that opportunity and is now exceling for the Wildcats in his second season the varstiy squad.

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It was the bottom of the seventh inning.

West Ranch baseball was up 6-0 on Saugus on May 8, 2012 and had ace and Foothill League Player of the Year J.C. Cloney on the mound needing three outs to win the school’s first-ever Foothill League championship.

It couldn’t be any sweeter for the Wildcats.

Saugus rallies and they look great.

It’s as hard as Cloney’s been hit all year.

An error here, a lucky hit there, four lasers in the gap.

Everyone’s feeling nervous.

West Ranch head baseball coach Casey Burrill has drymouth.

You look at the West Ranch stands and everyone’s in a panic.

You look at the Saugus stands and they look like they just won the lottery.

Cloney’s at pitch 1,000, it seems.

There are runners on and Saugus has a kid named A-Rod up — of course.

The Centurions are now down 6-3.

He hits a sinking liner to right field and Tony Slauson leaves his feet and catches it.

That’s how the coach and the player remember it.

And if it weren’t for a decision made by the coach or by fate or by some other strange force in the universe, the player wouldn’t have made the play.

And who knows, history might tell another story.

Like what if Wally Pipp had never arrived at Yankee Stadium with a headache on June 2, 1925?

Would Lou Gehrig have gone on to play 2,130 games and become one of baseball’s greatest players of all time.

By no means was Yankees manager Miller Huggins a genius for putting Gehrig in the game, nor does Burrill claim to be for Slauson’s rise up the West Ranch program. But sometimes opportunity presents itself, and people run with it.

“I was really fortunate,” Slauson says.

Tony Slauson was a 2012 All-Foothill League and All-Santa Clarita Valley honorable mention and in 2013 is a .348 hitting center fielder and one of the team’s top run producers with 14 RBIs.

Those honors last year could very easily not have happened.

Slauson was slated to be a junior playing junior varsity baseball last season and he humbly accepted that.

With various causes, including injury and lack of production by other outfielders who were expected to eat up all the playing time, Slauson received an opportunity to play in some summer league games.

It’s not like he hit four home runs in a game or robbed a home run. He did the little things.

Slauson remembers his first game in the lineup at Simi Valley High.

He executed a sacrifice bunt and he hit an RBI single.

Slauson remembers one game when West Ranch was short in the outfield and threw a regular infielder into left field.

A batter hit a towering fly ball to left field and Slauson, seeing from center field that his teammate was having trouble tracking the ball, raced over and caught the ball.

“It wasn’t even close to my play,” Slauson remembers. “(Assistant) coach (Ryan) Lindgreen told me, ‘That’s when the coaches decided this kid needs to be on varsity.’”

Slauson continued his momentum into the winter, doing all the little things right.

Before the start of the regular season, co-head coach Brady Burrill approached Slauson while he was stretching, he recalls, and told him to forget about the JV team.

He was on the varsity.

But for every story about kids making it, there are as many, if not more, of them not.

“Every program has one of those guys who was overlooked or passed up or was told he couldn’t make it. ‘If you want to try next year, you can.’” Burrill says. “He was one of those guys that was kind of passed up after two years in the program, got a weird late summer interesting look, did great.”

It’s quite the dilemma for coaches — who gets more chances and who gets less chances?

And it’s not just a high school dilemma.

It happens at all levels — especially the highest.

In many cases, fringe prospects get a short window to prove themselves in the minor leagues. And if they don’t take advantage, they’re another casualty of the harsh realities of professional baseball.

Some guys get callups to the Major Leagues, get a few games to produce and if they don’t, we never hear of them again.

“There’s no black and white. There’s only gray when you have someone evaluate someone else’s talent,” Burrill says of the decision process. “Within a coaching staff we have disagreements on players and what we think they can and cannot do. ... There are mistakes made constantly in a program.”

Burrill says a mistake was made on a kid named Steven Farnworth a couple of years back.

Farnworth was cut as a freshman. He was a catcher on the junior varsity as a junior. Now he is College of the Canyons’ ace on the mound and will likely be playing college baseball at the four-year level.

Burrill also told the story of a teammate of his when he was a freshman baseball player at Hart High who is an example of someone who got caught in a numbers or talent crunch and then found opportunity and ran with it.

That player, who ended up being a cult hero for the Boston Red Sox and won a World Series with them in 2004, told his story to The Signal in 2011.

“I wasn’t really good enough to play out there. That’s when I transferred to University High in Santa Monica,” said 12-year Major Leaguer Kevin Millar, who is now an analyst on the MLB Network. “I was just a benchwarmer on the (Hart High) freshman team, didn’t play a lot. These guys (my Hart teammates) were great. ... They were early bloomers, studs. I really wasn’t good enough to play, so I went down to the westside as a 10th grader and went to University.”

That opportunity opened the door for something big for Millar.

And though Slauson’s ability to take advantage of opportunity might not be on par with Millar’s right now, it has a similarity.

Burrill thinks Slauson can play at the four-year college level, and he has received interest from some Cal State schools, he says.

He’s a key member of the Foothill League-leading Wildcats varsity team in this his senior year.

If nothing bigger in baseball comes of the chance he got, at least he has a souvenir to tell people about.

It’s in a case at the base of his bed.

A baseball.

It reads: “Championship catch 2012 West Ranch 6 Saugus 3.”

cosborne@signalscv.com

661-287-5529

 

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