Richie Jerde Knows Dreams Come True

<b>VERO BEACH, Florida</b>-- We've all heard the silver lining story -- how behind every dark cloud in your life lurks opportunity. So, you're a cynic who doesn't believe all that nonsense. Just don't tell that to Richie Jerde. He knows that some cliches come true.

Richie grew up in Valencia, Cal, close to L.A., learned at a young age to love the game of base ball and, as he puts it, "If you're from Southern California, you gotta love the Dodgers." He certainly did, following his favorite team. And as his own talent emerged, telling his mother, "Some day I'm going to play for the Dodgers."

But the truth is, nice as such stories are, they seldom find their way into reality. Even if someone develops enough to become a professional, there's the draft where they pick you, not the other way around. It happens all the time- somebody gets chosen by a team other than the one he cares for. Oh, he may still hold a place in his heart for the team of his youth but he goes to work wearing somebody else's colors.

Richie grew up into becoming a pitcher with that kind of ability. He honed it at College of the Canyons, a junior college, then transferred to Cal-Santa Barbara. Only, there wasn't to be a draft, nor, possibly, a career for he blew his elbow out. Instead of a pro uniform, he wore a hospital gown as he underwent Tommy John surgery.

That was in 2002, after which the required extensive rehabilitation time occurred. Frustrating, of course, but he felt, "You have to have the proper mind set. You can't hurry it."

Come back he did. He even discovered to his delight that, "I started throwing a couple of miles an hour faster than I ever did before." That caught the eye of George Genovese.

George is something of a legend in scouting. He'd been a big league player briefly, a minor league manager as well but finally started scouting in 1964. Along the way he signed, among others, Jack Clark, Matt Williams, Garry Maddox, Chili Davis, George Foster, Dave Kingman, Ron Deer and Matt Nokes. You can see where he acquired that legendary status.

However George got old. Too elderly for the Giants, obviously, for they let him go to retirement. After all, he was in his late 70's. But George didn't feel like staying retired so he hooked on with the Dodgers as a part-time scout.

He's 82 now and he has unique duties. After the draft has swept the table, he looks among the leftovers to form a Dodger scout team which plays the Southern California area. Among those assembled, he searches for the ones who might be good enough to succeed but who have so far escaped the net.

He's found some likelies, too. One even reached the big leagues albeit not with the Dodgers. He's Jorge Piedra, whom George signed, was eventually traded and is now in the Colorado outfield. (Or, at least, will be with he finishes serving his suspension for steroid use, something George never taught him. )

The brothers Hoorelebeke are a couple of others -- Jesse, now with the Mariners, and Casey, still very much a Dodger possible at Vero Beach. And Genovese liked what he saw in Jerde, signing him in August of last year.

So, now the 6-2, 200-pound righthander, is about to celebrate his 22nd birthday (April 28) in the extended camp at Dodgertown, where he's carefully listening to the advice he gets. "You can get information from every coach," he notes. "They all have a lot to give. You have to stay focused and learn."

He admits his first outing wasn't what he desired. Oh, he had the velocity for he can reach 96 mph at times but the command wasn't there. "So, we worked on some things and my next two times were much better."

Now he toils at developing the proper attitude of a pro. "You have to change speeds, stay in the zone, throw strikes." Obvious, maybe, but not so easy to achieve.

He has his faith, too, for he's very much a Christian, which can be challenged at times because he's living in an environment peopled by those whose every other word consists of four letters. "They respect my reliefs, though, and we get along fine."

His pitching idol by the way, is not a Dodger of either present or past but rather Curt Schilling. "I like his values and the way he goes about his business." Who can quarrel with that ?

And as the learning process goes on, he puts on a uniform with the name "Dodgers" on it. He may be 3,000 miles away from the bigtime but he feels certain he's on his chosen path just as he envisioned as a kid.