From his Pasadena birthplace to Long Beach Polytechnic High School to his college days at UCLA in West Los Angeles, Chase Utley -- Southern California's generous gift to the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies -- had all the bases covered growing up.
That Utley followed Tony Gwynn through Long Beach Poly and walked in the baseball footsteps of Jackie Robinson at UCLA says all one needs to know about how deep baseball's roots are set in the L.A. metropolitan area.Blessed with sunshine year round, parks aplenty and a rich baseball history, the place known locally as the Southland has been a proving ground for talent with few, if any, equals. The region celebrated its 50th anniversary as a force in Major League Baseball with the Dodgers and Angels both reaching the postseason, but both clubs fell short of a dream "Freeway Series" to commemorate the occasion.
Even so, there remain links and attachments to the Southland throughout the core of the 2008 postseason participants.What's so telling about just how rich and deep that soil is? Utley's not the only superstar with roots there. Lest we forget, one of the Rays' young giants of the game made his mark out of Long Beach State via St. John Bosco High and as a native of Downey -- in the heart of the L.A.-Orange County metroplex. Explosive third baseman Evan Longoria might have ice in his veins, but he developed his sensational game at Long Beach State of "Dirtbags" that has produced a wealth of talent. Taken third overall by Tampa Bay with its first pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Longoria showed how impervious he is to pressure during the postseason, and with his superlative defense, he could be the Mike Schmidt of his generation. Speaking of Schmidt, the Phillies outfit that eliminated the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series has a number of connections -- and not just through Utley. Phillies general manager Pat Gillick and outfielder Geoff Jenkins attended USC, UCLA's crosstown rival; Ryan Madson was born in Long Beach and drafted and signed by the Phillies in 1998 out of Moreno Valley's Valley View High School in Riverside County; fellow reliever Scott Eyre is a native of Inglewood, a Los Angeles suburb best known for the Forum, where the "Showtime" Lakers once played; and infielder Greg Dobbs was born in Los Angeles.
As for Longoria's teammates, James Shields -- a pillar in Rays manager Joe Maddon's rotation -- developed his game at Hart High School in Newhall, in the sprawling San Fernando Valley. Of course, Maddon himself spent 31 years in the Angels organization, so the bond is strong there. And injured closer Troy Percival, a Fontana (Riverside County) native who attended UC Riverside, helped spark the Angels to a World Series championship in 2002, and has had a transformative impact on his younger teammates in the Rays' bullpen.
Boston outfielder Coco Crisp -- whose eighth-inning RBI single evened the score in Boston's historic Game 5 win over Tampa Bay in the American League Championship Series -- is an L.A. native who honed his talents at Inglewood High School and Pierce Junior College in the San Fernando Valley.
Red Sox teammate Mark Kotsay -- who also delivered during the remarkable Red Sox comeback with a clutch double -- is a Whittier, Calif., native. An outfielder by trade who's excelled at first base in the postseason, Kotsay gained national attention at Cal State Fullerton in Orange County, a baseball powerhouse for years.
Crisp, who resides in Desert Hot Springs (Riverside County), about 60 miles east of L.A., is a graduate of Major League Baseball's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program.
The RBI World Series is one facet of the MLB Urban Youth Academy, an instructional and educational center in Compton that plays host to a number of youth-oriented baseball events year round.So, in the Southland, baseball really does come full circle, from Robinson to Gwynn, Utley and Longoria, and on through to the Urban Youth Academy. And it always goes deep into October, no matter who's playing. Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.