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The "Old Guys" Leading The Young Spartans PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry, Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 19 April 2012 02:46

Seniors Gabriel Caudillo And Michael Munoz Are Important Keys To Sylmar's Hopes For A League Title

MIKE TERRY/SFVS

Lead Warriors – Gabriel Caudillo (left) and Michael Munoz are bringing productive bats and senior leadership to the Sylmar High baseball team this season.

When Gabriel Caudillo and Michael Munoz first met on a field, they were aspiring Pony League players getting a taste of organized baseball.

"I can't honestly remember him too well from then because we were real small," Caudillo said. "But once I got to Sylmar, I started to remember him a little bit."

Little did they know that several years later, they would be at the forefront of Sylmar's pursuit of a Valley Mission League championship.

And here are the Spartans, 11- 8 overall but 6-1 in league play going into their April 19 contest with Reseda, and breathing down the collective necks of unbeaten Kennedy and San Fernando, the 2011 co-defending league champs.

Coach Roy Rivera and his staff are doing it with a somewhat inexperienced roster; seven of the 17 roster players listed are sophomores or juniors. The leading pitcher Victor Ramirez (6-2, 1.54) is a 10th grader.

Then there's Caudillo and Munoz, both seniors, doing their best to provide leadership at the plate and on the field.

Munoz, 18, who plays first base, is batting .442 and leads the Spartans with 23 hits and 20 runs batted in. Among his hits are seven doubles and two triples. He's only struck out four times in 62 plate appearances.

"He's a quality kid, an academic kid, never been a problem on or off the field," Rivera said.

Caudillo, 17, is batting .327, with 16 hits and 15 RBIs, and is one of three Spartans with at least seven stolen bases. But as the shortstop – a position he's currently playing after two seasons at second base – his glove and defense are more important. And it's evident that the coaching staff is not afraid to load up Caudillo with responsibility.

"You are the captain of infield (as a shortstop)," Caudillo said. "You take charge of pop flies. And, say a pitcher has a 0-2 count; then I can move the outfielders around, depending on the hitter."

Rivera defines Caudillo as "a scrappy kid, a gamer who does whatever you ask him to do."

What's really impressed Rivera about the pair, though, is the fact they are attending, and playing for, their neighborhood school.

"These two are local kids, they grew up in the area, played Pony ball here. Just the fact of them going to their home school and not buying into 'other influences' so to speak" is a big deal, Rivera said.

"It's not just those two; there's more. But those two have been here awhile now. They've stuck through it. They bought into the process, and I'm proud of the fact they've stayed with it."

Munoz joined the varsity midway through his freshman year in 2009. He said he started out "scared and timid," but over time has grown confident in his abilities.

"Now I know I can do some damage," Munoz said. "From being on varsity at young age, I learned you can get used to the pitching, the movement on the ball."

Caudillo did not come to Sylmar until midway through his sophomore year, even though he initially thought he would follow his older brother, Salvador, onto the Spartan baseball team.

"When I was in eighth grade, Sal was on the team (playing third and outfield)," Caudillo said. "I would go to my brother's practices. Coach Rivera, he helped me and my brother with our game."

Caudillo began at Birmingham High as a freshman, wanting to enter their magnet school. But when Birmingham became a charter school, he switched over to Sylmar.

"And I haven't looked back," he said.

The Spartans last won the league in 2009. In the 2010 and 2011 season, they were third. They reached the playoffs all three years, and went as far as the quarterfinals last season. Munoz thinks the 2012 team can do better.

"This year's team, we've been together a longer time and we have a good chemistry," he said. "We all know each other, and when and how to pick someone up on a bad day. It is a better environment."

But don't think the team is blinded by its early success, however. So far the Spartans have been overwhelming three lesser teams, Canoga Park, Reseda and Van Nuys, which are a combined 1-14 in league play (although Van Nuys' lone win was against Sylmar, 8-7, back on April 9).

"For some reason, in this league, it seems to work out that way – that we play Kennedy and San Fernando at the very end," Rivera said. "I'm not going to say our early schedule was a cakewalk; we played some good (nonleague) teams. But if the kids are buying into (playing the weaker league teams early), I've got no problem with that."

Both Caudillo and Munoz say playing a soft league schedule early is not a detriment.

"It's probably better to get these teams out of the way first," Munoz said. "We now know what guys can do in certain situations. I believe we are getting more confidence. We are going to go into the 'big' league games with some confidence."

"I love the way the schedule is," added Caudill. "We have Kennedy in two weeks, and finish off our league with San Fernando. I think we are on a level to compete with them."

Both are scheduled to graduate Sylmar in June. Munoz has been accepted into Eastern Michigan University, plans to study kinesiology, and will try to join the baseball team there as a walk-on. Caudillo is still trying to attract interest from college baseball scouts, but said he will continue his education even if he does not continue playing.

There is a more immediate future – the remainder of this season and playoffs. The previous two seasons, 2010 and 2011, Sylmar finished at .500. But Caudillo and Munoz believe they can help write a better ending in 2012.

That's what friends and teammates are for.

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