Hart High School’s annual Alumni Baseball Game on Sunday was special for a number of reasons.
First off, it was actually titled the “Larry Fiscus Alumni Game” in honor of “The Legend.” Fiscus worked for Hart as the sports department’s equipment manager since his graduation from Hart in 1974 and was, and still clearly is, beloved by everyone at the school. Fiscus died in June.
Subsequently, the game also served as the induction ceremony of the 1999 team into Hart’s Wall of Fame. While many Hart teams have made it to the CIF Division 2 championship game, the 1999 team is the only one to have hoisted its trophy.
Led by head coach Bud Murray, the 1999 Indians held a team batting average of .400 and amassed 50 home runs during their championship season.
“This is probably the best baseball team that’s ever come out of the Santa Clarita Valley,” said Murray. “There are two things you have to do to be successful in baseball and that’s pitching and defense… I’m not saying these are the best players that ever came out of this valley, but they certainly were the best team.”
Preceding the team’s induction was the introduction of the 2023 freshman, junior varsity and varsity baseball teams. According to the coaching staff present at the event, pitching and defense will be the emphasis for this season — as it was in 1999.
Current head coach Jim Ozella said the 1999 team is the benchmark for what the Indians currently strive for in their chase to hoist the trophy once again.
“They’re the standard,” said Ozella. “They set the standard for us and everybody that’s trying to reach that and we haven’t gotten there yet. We’re still trying. We’ve been close a couple of times, but until you get the title, you’re still not there.”
Ozella said his favorite part about an event like this is watching guys, many of whom haven’t seen each other in decades, get together again and take part in the unifying act of playing ball.
“My favorite part is seeing these guys get together with each other. You know, somebody said to one of our people in the back that they hadn’t been back for 30 years,” said Ozella. “So just a chance to see them get back together and have themselves a good time, that’s all I want to do… your friends you have in these days, in many regards, are your lifetime friends.”
To remember those that were on the championship team that have died since, a moment of silence for Mike Gaver, Tim O’Brien, Tim Hutting and Nolan LeMar was issued by Ozella.
The first pitch was thrown out by Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, who’s also the starting shortstop for the Republican Congressional Baseball Team. As a Saugus High School alumni, Garcia said it was a little weird donning a Hart jersey but that the experience was well worth it.
“Baseball is a great unifier, everyone loves baseball and the competitive spirit that it brings out of us is all positive,” said Garcia. “I remember while I was going through flight school in 1999, this team won the championships, so this was a big deal. So to get to meet some of these guys and see some of them go on to be pros. It’s pretty cool.”
While not on the ‘99 team, Steve Susdorf was a Hart alumni who made it to the show —- playing for the Philadelphia Phillies. Susdorf graduated from Hart in 2004.
“The ‘99 team? I grew up watching them, my older brother [Bill Susdorf] played for the team. It’s cool to see everybody here. I got tons of respect for everybody that was on that team,” said Susdorf.
Following the first pitch, induction of the ‘99 team and the national anthem, sung by Kelly Packard, the alumni were ready to play ball.
It should be noted, there was no official lineup, roster or rules of any kind. The game was purely done out of fun. However, there were some notable moments that showed the inherent competitiveness of former Hart baseball players.
In the top of the first, Susdorf reached first on an infield single. He advanced to second on an error. With two outs, Susdorf was attempting to steal third but the cleanup batter hit a dribbler, making it an unplanned hit-and-run. Susdorf rounded third and attempted to score as the third baseman threw home. Susdorf, wearing shorts, slid into home but was tagged out. The pant-less slide left a nasty abrasion on his leg following the play.
Another notable player of the game, who Ozella said would have received the most valuable player of the game award (if it existed), was Justin Wiley. A member of the ‘99 championship team, Wiley pitched three shutout innings in the alumni game and scored after hitting a single in the bottom of the first. Wiley was driven in by a hard-hit liner to left by teammate Brandon Montemayor.
Susdorf spoke very highly of Wiley.
“I remember that team could hit and then they had two solid pitchers: Wiley and Jamie [Shields]. It was amazing being a little kid watching that. It was pretty special,” said Susdorf.