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Slugger springing into summer

Glendale Community College first baseman hopes to parlay stellar playoffs into hot start for Angelenos, who open season tonight

June 01, 2011|By Gabriel Rizk, gabriel.rizk@latimes.com

As basketball became front and center in Ellis Whitman's life, baseball took a back seat. Actually, it was more like it was packed away in the trunk.

It hardly shows in the way the Glendale Community College first baseman can dig out a ball on a tricky hop or clear the fences with one smooth swing, but Whitman spent his days as a prep standout at his native Seattle's O'Dea High leading the Fighting Irish to basketball titles while giving little thought to baseball.

That's not to say baseball is new to him.

"I have videos of me playing when I was 2 with a Whiffle-ball bat," Whitman says. "I was obsessed with baseball until about the age of 11."

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But, athletically speaking, Whitman, who was the only non-senior starter for O'Dea's 2007 state-champion basketball team, became a product of his environment.

"It's basketball-heavy out there [in Seattle] and there's a lot less baseball," says Whitman, who moved to Southern California in 2008 for his senior year. "I went from being obsessed with baseball to living basketball to moving down here and being back to living baseball."

Having completed his transplant from the rainy Pacific Northwest to sunny Southern California, the clouds seem to have parted for good over Whitman's baseball career, which is on a major uptick on the heels of his exploits during the Vaqueros' recent run to the state championship tournament.

But while Glendale college's historic season is now just that, the summer is just getting started for Whitman, who has been tabbed as one of the cornerstones of the Glendale Angelenos, a first-year California Collegiate League team that begins its season at 6:30 p.m. today at Stengel Field.

"The athleticism is No. 1," says Angelenos team president and coach Tony Riviera of how Whitman caught his eye last summer when he became a member of Riviera's Southern California Collegiate League SoCal Cardinals. "When you take a look at a kid that's 6-foot-5 and has never played high school baseball because he's an elite basketball player and all of a sudden you see how he did last summer on our team. He really made an impact on the Southern California Collegiate League."

Whitman was a starter in the SCCL's All-Star game and a major contributor in helping the Cardinals post a 20-15 record in their own inaugural season.

"It was a lot of fun, but it was also a lot of business," Whitman says of his season with the Cardinals. "We got a lot of wins, we did really well for first-year team in that league."

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