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Tuesday, June 3, 2008 | Matt Cerda knows his identity as a Little League World Series star will always be with him. It’s his albatross as long as he plays baseball.
“I do get a lot of guys asking about the World Series, and it does get a little old,” Cerda said. “It was a great experience, but I’ve proved myself in high school, and I have a scholarship (to the University of San Diego) at the next level.”
The reason the Oceanside High senior shortstop has patience with such questions is the game is still fun. His talent hasn’t reached his ceiling.
You might recall that former Padres third baseman Sean Burroughs, who didn’t live up to being the ninth pick of the draft, eventually wouldn’t answer questions about his days as a Little League World Series hero.
The aggravation is understandable. If you were an actor, do you want to be known for the Brady Bunch or Nicholas Cage in his latest blockbuster movie?
“Matt loves every aspect of the game,” Oceanside coach Dave Barrett said. “He loves practices, he loves the grind and he loves competition — the whole tableau of what it is to be a baseball player. I’m going to miss not seeing him at practice every day.”
Cerda’s high school baseball career finally came to an end when Oceanside lost to Grossmont 11-5 Saturday in the CIF San Diego Section Division II championship game at San Diego State’s Tony Gwynn Stadium.
Before he was done, though, he led Oceanside (25-8) to a school record for most wins in a season. He also set a school record for career hits (117) and career home runs (26).
As a senior, he batted .519 (55-of-106) with 16 home runs and 45 RBIs while leading the Pirates to the Avocado League title. He’ll be an All-CIF choice and is a candidate for the Player-of-the-Year honors.
His sterling high school career is what separates him from most 12-year-old kids that had their 15 minutes of fame in the Little League World Series. When ESPN turns its cameras on Williamsport, Penn., the power of television distorts what the Little Leaguers have actually accomplished.
Dozens of kids play in the Little League World Series every August, but very few of those Little Leaguers go on to be came high school stars, let alone college players, draft picks or Major Leaguers.
Most of the kids have advanced skills or physical maturity for a 12-year-old. Some don’t love the game enough to work on its fundamentals to keep up with the level of competition as they grow older. Some gravitate to other sports.
Only five players off Oceanside’s Little League World Series team played varsity baseball, and that ratio isn’t unusual. There’s nothing wrong with not advancing beyond Little League or high school. Hitting a ceiling is the nature of sports.
Cerda is the only Oceanside Little Leaguer to earn a scholarship and be listed as a draft prospect, although Bobby Shore was an All-CIF pick for the Pirates in 2007 and played 2008 at Palomar College.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pounder was a top recruit for USD’s nationally ranked program and is projected as high as the third round in Thursday’s Amateur Baseball Draft.
At USD, Cerda can realistically expect to be part of another championship game. The Toreros have won the West Coast Conference title the last two years and advanced to the NCAA Tournament five of the last seven years.
“I would never put limits on Matt Cerda,” Barrett said. “He can do some great things on a baseball field, and he gets better when he’s around better players.”
On Saturday, Cerda went down swinging with a single in his final at bat to spark a three-run, seventh-inning rally. After the final out was recorded and Oceanside’s players had accepted their runner-up medals, Cerda retreated to the dugout.
He leaned over the bench, stuffed equipment into his bag and slung the strap over his shoulder as he walked out. Then an assistant coach walked by him.
“Thanks for all the ground balls you hit us for four years, coach,” said Cerda, showing he may still be a kid, but he has enough maturity to say thanks while fighting back disappointment.
The last time Cerda felt that kind of disappointment from a loss, he and his Oceanside Little League World Series teammates had been eliminated by Danny Almonte, who was later exposed as a 14-year-old masquerading as a 12-year-old from the Bronx by way of Puerto Rico.
Almonte, by the way, wasn’t drafted and didn’t play college baseball. He wasn’t signed after a New York Mets tryout camp, either. He was last heard of in the summer of 2007 when he was released from an independent league team in Illinois.
Of Cerda’s disappointment of losing a Little League World Series game and a high school championship game, he says, “They’re both disappointing, but they’re different. It’s a different competition.”
You bet it’s different. But the difference didn’t keep Cerda from loving the game and advancing to the next level.
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Or send a letter to the editor.