North County's Wooden sets perfect example, on and off the field

SIDELINES

May 01, 1994|By PAT O'MALLEY

Rarely has Mike Wooden pitched or played in a North County varsity baseball game the last three years without one or both of his parents and grandmother there to watch.

Wooden achieved the ultimate for a pitcher Thursday with his mother and father, Ken, who taught him near-perfect mechanics at a young age, and grandmother looking on. The 6-foot junior right-hander threw a perfect game at No. 2 Old Mill, winning 2-0 with 15 strikeouts.

His mother, Nancy, who normally keeps score of Mike's games when she gets there early, hustled from her job in Baltimore and got there for the last inning. Her husband was videotaping the game from atop the hill behind the backstop at old Andover High where the No. 12 Knights play their home games.

After Ken filled in his wife on Mike's bid for a perfect game, Nancy took a seat and promptly folded her hands in prayer. She prayed through a 3-0 count to leadoff hitter Mike Longazel, who eventually drilled a hard grounder on a 3-1 pitch at first baseman Tweety Barton for the first out.

Wooden struck out Brian Bogle, and with his mom squirming in pTC her seat, got Jimmy Greer on a grounder to third baseman Matt Lentz.

Lentz' low throw was dug out of the dirt by Barton, and it was 21 up, 21 down on just 93 pitches with Wooden not allowing a ball to leave the infield.

In finishing what is every pitcher's dream, Wooden, who lives in Brooklyn Park, is believed to have thrown the first regular-season perfect game in Anne Arundel County history.

The other known perfect game also was thrown by a Brooklyn Park resident, Bobby Boyd. Boyd pitched a perfect game for coach Tim McMullen's Brooklyn Park Bees on May 27, 1975 at Anne Arundel Community College against Wilde Lake, winning 1-0 in the first round of the state playoffs.

Wooden's was the first perfect game for Knights' coach Don Usewick, who had the foresight to keep Wooden on the varsity three years ago as a freshman.

Now in his junior year, Wooden has beaten the county's top two perennial powers, Arundel (by 4-1) and Old Mill.

The perfect game was Wooden's second career no-hitter, tying the county record shared by Boyd (Brooklyn Park, 1975), Frank Parreira (Arundel, 1976) and Scott Wharton (Old Mill, 1978). Arundel's Brian Rolocut took part in two in 1992.

It's said good things happen to good people, and no county baseball player is more respected by his peers and outsiders as a person than Mike Wooden. Aside from the obvious talent, Wooden possesses qualities that place him a cut above most people his age.

"In 37 years of umpiring, working over 3,000 games and 52 years total in baseball, that was the first perfect game I have ever seen," said Frank "Jocko" Svoboda, who coached in Baltimore before becoming an umpire and had a guy named Al Kaline play for him a couple years.

"I couldn't think of a better kid to throw one than Mike Wooden. When it was over, it brought tears to my eyes because all of us umpires have a lot of respect for him and the way he carries himself."

Wooden is a "yes sir, no ma'am, thank you" kind of young man, a rarity in this day and age.

Old Mill coach Mel Montgomery, a class act and gentleman himself, sought Wooden out after the game to offer congratulations.

Pasadena Saints coach Jerry Kerbe picked up Wooden for a postseason tournament last August after competing against him. Kerbe said he had read about Wooden in the newspapers and heard a lot about him, but couldn't get over what a polite, humble young man he was after meeting him.

Whether it's an admiring 11-year-old such as Chip Ziegler of Old Mill, a youth player who Mike befriended a few years ago, or a teammate of the same age, Wooden always has time.

"I can honestly say I have never met any finer than Mike Wooden," said Usewick.

"Mike is respectful and respected by all who come in contact with him. He is one of the fiercest competitors that I have ever coached, and he is humble and carries himself with extreme confidence. Mike is just one fantastic student-athlete."

I think Wooden himself described the kind of young man he is in the essay he submitted with his application for The Sun All-County Academic-Athletic Team. The student-athletes were asked to write an essay on the problem of teen-age drinking.

"As a student-athlete, I feel like it is my duty to set an example not only to other athletes, but to the whole school," wrote Wooden.

"I strive for the spotlight on the field, as much as anyone, but unlike most high school athletes, I also strive for the spotlight off the field. I'm one of the few and far between high school students who doesn't drink, and I'm very proud of it."

Maintaining that kind of attitude, Mike Wooden also should pitch perfect game in life.

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