By Aram Tolegian
It’s a good thing that South Hills High School baseball players C.J. Saylor and Ty France have been best friends for almost 10 years. Otherwise, what they often do during Huskies games all in the name of winning might not go as smoothly as it often does. Take a trip out to today’s Sierra League showdown between Chino Hills and host South Hills and you’ll probably see France and Saylor make an uncommon switch during the late innings. Saylor, arguably the top catcher in the area, will remove his gear and hand it to France, who’ll go from either pitcher or third base to behind the plate and catch his childhood friend.
It’s happened several times this season, the most memorable being when the Huskies beat Damien in extra innings. France went the first six innings of the game with Saylor catching him, then got behind the plate to catch Saylor, who went the final three innings to get the win.
“If I had my druthers, I wouldn’t do it at all,” South Hills coach Kevin Smith said, “but I talked to the kids at the beginning of the season, and said for us to be able to compete in league, you guys may have to do this.
“And both of them have been awesome about it. They’ve worked their tails off. They’ve really taken the responsibility on. You might think it would take them away offensively, and I think in the beginning it did, but man, they sure righted the ship and they’re swinging awesome.”
Both juniors, France and Saylor have already committed to play in college at San Diego State. It’s fitting that the two friends who live down the street from each other in West Covina will take the next step of their lives together.
They’ve come up through the local Little League and travel ball circuits together since age 9.
As freshmen, France and Saylor had starting roles on South Hills’ CIF- Southern Section championship team. Saylor played first base on that team, with France at his usual spot at third.
Although it sounds exhausting for Saylor – and it often is – to go from catching to pitching during what are typically the most intense innings of the game, don’t feel bad for him. Saylor usually has a pretty good read on the opposition’s hitters after having been behind the plate for most of the game.
“I feel where the hitters like the ball, and what pitches they like and don’t like,” Saylor said.
“And when I’m pitching, I usually call the pitches. If Ty throws down a sign and I don’t like it, I will shake it off because I know what they can and can’t hit. So I’m pretty much still calling the game when I’m pitching.
“It doesn’t really affect me during the game, but I feel it after. I feel drained. The games are so intense.
“We’re so mentally and physically tired because we want to win and we leave it all out on the field.”
Saylor, though, isn’t showing any wear, at least not on the field – he’s hitting .471 with 17 RBIs. On the mound, he’s got a 2-0 record, a 1.81 ERA and six saves.
France is just as impressive at the plate, hitting .479 with 14 RBIs, and he’s 4-1 on the mound with a 3.00 ERA. What’s more, France’s versatility allows to him excel at third, on the mound or behind the plate. Not many players can do all three and do them well, but there’s a real simple reason for that, as he explains it.
“Just for the love of the game,” France said. “Just going out there every day and having fun. Making it work, pretty much. It’s just fun for me. I love going out there and competing.
“I would prefer to be at third. That’s my main spot. I feel more comfortable there. It’s like home now, but I just want to win.”
Winning is the common factor that motivates the two longtime friends to do whatever it takes on the field. They got a taste of what it feels like to win on the biggest stage as freshmen, and now they’re trying to do it again either this year or next.
“We just want to go out there and win and get another ring,” Saylor said.
“Whatever it takes, we’ll do. We’ve been doing this since we were 8 or 9, so whatever Smith needs us to do, we’ll do it.”