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Cross-town rivalry livens up SWC-Grossmont baseball series Mary York | Fri, Apr 19 2013 01:58 AM

The rivalry between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants is one of the biggest in American baseball. Both originating in New York City – the Dodgers in Brooklyn and the Giants in Manhattan – the ball clubs brought their heated rivalry to the Golden State in the late 1950s when they transplanted to two cities that already competed against each other economically and culturally. 

Like the major leagues, college baseball has rivalries of its own that bring communities together and heighten the intensity of an already gripping competition. For the Southwestern College Jaguars the team to beat is Grossmont College’s Griffins. And similar to the Dodgers/Giants, the SWC/Grossmont rivalry is a story of origins.

Sheldon Gabriels, who played starting shortstop for the first half of the Jags’ season, said many of the players on their teams and in other conference clubs know each other from high school competition.

“Every single time coming out here, it’s like playing your best friend,” Gabriels said. “You have to beat their ass, that’s how it is. That’s baseball.”

According to Grossmont coach Randy Abshier, the rivalry between the two colleges stems from the historical tendency of taking each other’s potential freshmen. Grossmont takes South Bay players and SWC nabs East County athletes.

But even the coaches have history.

Abshier played for head coach Jerry Bartow at SWC in 1989 and 1990 and began his college coaching career as an assistant with Bartow in 1997.

“I couldn’t be where I’m at without Jerry Bartow and Jay Martel and Southwestern College,” said Abshier on Thursday last week after his ball club defeated the Jaguars 11-7. “Jerry’s been there a long time. He’s kind of the godfather, nobody messes with him. Institutionally he’s kind of a rebel and we respect that.”

But respect and appreciation for the competition manifests itself with a cut-throat effort on the field.

Griffin Jesse Jenner and Jaguar Cody Sos both play catcher and are friends when they are not trying to tag each other out.

“It’s always a dogfight with us so we always come out with as much intensity as we can and try to put together a good win,” said Jenner. “On the field it’s cool to be friends but when it’s game time you’ve got to put your game face on.”

The two catchers met playing summer ball together with the Barona Stars.

SWC freshman pitcher Tyler Martinez said the team has to be on their toes for games against their across-the-town competitors.

“It’s always a tough game because they always prepare for us,” he said.

Martinez did a clean job closing out the last few innings of Thursday’s game at Grossmont but the team’s poor offense has left them falling further behind in conference standings. The series against the Griffins, who are now in second, will most likely reflect where the boys from South Bay will rank in playoffs — if they get that far.

But the close match-up in skill makes the sparring that much more thrilling.

“Southwestern is a really good team,” said Grossmont right-fielder Billy Flamion. “We get pretty excited when we get to play Southwestern. When you play someone who’s a rival in a big situation like this battling for second place, I think it makes it more exciting.”

SWC infielder Justin Di Stefano said the rivalry makes the team play better, though the three-game sweep by Grossmont seems to contradict that theory.

“I personally like the competition,” said Di Stefano. “I feel like they’re our rivals in the league and every time we play them we step it up.”

SWC lost all three games last week – 8-4, 11-7, 8-7. It is the longest losing streak the ball club has had this season and the first time they have been swept by an opponent.

“We just need our bats waking up in early innings,” said catcher Carlos Carriedo who has been seeing more time on the field now that he is recovered from a previous injury. “If we can get swinging earlier I think we’ll have a chance to pull off a game.”

The Jags roped in big-run innings late in both Thursday’s and Saturday’s game, but they are not coming soon enough. Down from 25 players, the 17 players remaining on the squad have their hands full keeping their season together with more than a third of the bench missing.

It may be too late for the Jags to shoot for playoffs this season, but as many of the players admitted early in the semester, their freshmen-filled team will be quite a force to reckon with in nine months.

Playoffs are a reasonable expectation for next year’s squad. And Grossmont is not going anywhere, either.

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