For the San Clemente High baseball team, an unusual left field has become a secret weapon
By Steve Breazeale
In southland high school baseball, there is perhaps nothing that compares to the ballpark oddity that is the left field at Sisca Field, home of the San Clemente Tritons.
It’s big, it’s green and it’s a handful to deal with.
The obstacle starts about 250 feet from home plate, where the green grass of the outfield suddenly races steeply uphill for about 15 feet. At the top of the hill, things keep getting bigger, as the left field fence stretches up for another 20 feet or so to the top of the adjacent football stands of Thalassa Stadium which bears a sign that reads ‘300 feet’. In all, the hill and the fence push close to the 40-foot mark above ground level at home plate.
The task of handling this “mini Green Monster” has fallen to senior left fielder Shane Elias-Calles.
Elias-Calles has seen it all patrolling the quirky left field, from fly balls that hit the fence and bounce straight back to him, to balls that just sit at the top of the hill and refuse to move an inch, requiring a quick and speedy sprint up the steep incline.
After four years of playing on the field, he’s now accustomed to watching opposing players struggle with the ballpark dimensions while he plays it like a crafty veteran.
“It’s definitely a challenge…you have to take wide steps to work your way up the hill,” Elias-Calles said. “Some guys, instead of turning around and running up the hill they try and backpedal up it and they just fall straight on their back.”
There’s not much that can prepare an opposing team’s left fielder for the challenge of judging fly balls and line drives that make their way out to the hill. The way that Elias-Calles and senior center fielder Dan Caresio manage to do it has taken four years of trial and error.
Caresio, who has played alongside Elias-Calles since the two were freshman, helps his teammate judge where the ball will ultimately end up. They work from the top of the hill on down, so Elias-Calles makes it a point to race up the hill before the ball gets to him, and then come down to catch the ball. It’s a trick Elias-Calles says he’s learned from alumni.
If Caresio thinks a fly ball will stay up on top of the hill, he tells Elias-Calles to stay up. He says the opposite if the ball looks like it might roll down. It seems fairly simple, until the play happens at game speed.
“A lot of teams don’t know how to play the hill. We’re the only team that does,” Caresio said.
Because the hill is only 250 feet away from home plate, a lot of balls that get over Elias-Calles’ head look like automatic doubles, when in fact, the ball is much closer than the base runner thinks. Elias-Calles and Caresio both touched on the fact that they have an advantage, as fielders, and can throw out a runner more often than not when they try and stretch their hit into extra bases.
“A lot of doubles go to die out there,” head coach Dave Gellatly said.
Gellatly, who played high school baseball at San Clemente, has seen the hill decide the outcome of dozens of games in favor of the Tritons. He continually sees opposing teams come in with a game plan to lift fly balls out to left and hope one carries, only to find it fall short due to either the fence, the hill or the wind, which whips across the field from off the ocean.
“(The hill) has been a topic of conversation for as long as I’ve been here,” Gellatly said. “You have opponents who come in who have never seen it before and say ‘Wow, what do you do with that hill?’ and I say ‘Good luck with the next seven innings trying to figure it out’.”