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Rebuilding the Baseball Program

Rebuilding a program from ground up

By Ron Guild

 Wave Publications Staff Writer

Characterizing the L.A. City College baseball team is simple for its coach George Hinshaw.

 He refers to part of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, the part that reads, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

 It's a fitting description of a roster built largely by little-used transfers from other programs, plus a few holdovers from last year's 8-32 club, one that went 3-21 in the South Coast Conference. 

In his second year, Hinshaw, a former major league player and coaching veteran at the high school level, is taking on the challenge of not only keeping a program that easily could have been eliminated a few years ago, but trying to get it to the level it enjoyed years ago when it was producing more than its share of future pros.

"What we have here is a bunch of castoffs, guys who have been shuffled around," Hinshaw said. "The first thing we have to do is get them believing in themselves."

He's had to deal with more than the confidence of players in the early going.

Just getting them on the field has been a challenge.

First of all, they played no winter league schedule, one that every established program needs to sharpen its skills for the upcoming spring season.Then the season got pushed back a week while Hinshaw was dealing with paperwork involved in player eligibility. Recent rains delayed use of their home, Pote Field in Griffith Park, for practice or games for about a week. 

With that as a backdrop, they began the schedule with virtually no practice time, so the early-season blowout losses were predictable. 

Still, Hinshaw doesn't expect it to continue.

"We've got a group of guys that are underestimated," he said. "I think we've got a good solid group here. I don't think the scores (of the early-season games) are indicative of the talent here." 

There is returning talent in center fielder Chris Espinoza, a Fairfax High School graduate, and right fielder Eric Smalling. 

He's pinning his hopes on some other sophomores, notably pitcher Mathew Gonzales and third baseman Jonathan Arana (Los Angeles High). 

Freshman he's counting on include infielder Marcus Miller, a Dominguez High product, outfielder Tony Manzanares from Cathedral and pitcher Ryan Sheriff from Culver City.

Playing in the rugged South Coast Conference against such established programs as Cerritos, East L.A., Mt. San Antonio, Long Beach, El Camino and L.A. Harbor may be too much of a challenge for the Cubs at this stage, but Hinshaw thinks they can be competitive.

"Maybe I'm too optimistic, but I'm confident about this club." 

It was much worse when Hinshaw, who has had coaching stints at Lynwood and Serra highs, as well as the Major League Baseball Urban Academy in Compton, took over at LACC last year. 

"When I got here in November, I only had three players," he said. 

Through his numerous contacts, he was able to recruit enough players to field a team. 

The record aside, there was progress. Early-season blowouts were followed by more competitive games the second half of conference play. 

"Other teams started to throw their aces at us instead of the number three and four pitchers they had been throwing," he said. 

Hinshaw's professional baseball background, which includes a short stints with the San Diego Padres and longer ones with the Chunichi Dragons in Japan, and pitching coach Freddy Toliver, a former big league pitcher, is a plus for a rebuilding program. 

The support of the administration at LACC has been appreciated by Hinshaw, who also thanks the Parks and Recreation Department with sprucing up a field that had fallen into disrepair. He is also appreciative of the support provided by councilman Tom LaBonge.

This would hardly seem to be the ideal baseball job, but Hinshaw said, "I love challenges. I want to be a teacher and be a college baseball coach. I want to create good baseball players that can get to the next level. We're trying to build a baseball factory here." 

To do that, recruiting will have to be upgraded. 

"That's the toughest part of building a program," he admits.

Yet, he thinks he's already got a pretty good base to work with.

"We've got more talent than it looks like," he said. "Our biggest need is pitching. I think we have enough hitting."