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The Philadelphia Daily News

Lafuente Comes Up Tall For Edison


3 May 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Philadelphia Daily News. All rights reserved.

The subject was height and weight and how Javier Lafuente has very little of either.

"Hey, don't make it sound like I'm real little," he said, laughing. "It's not like I'm 4-foot-10 and under 100 pounds.

"I was always the shortest and thinnest kid in my grade. I was OK with it. Nobody messed with me. I got along fine. Still do. I like how I am."

Lafuente, a just-turned-16-year-old sophomore at Thomas Edison High, figures he stands 5-4 and weighs 123 pounds. Yesterday, though, he turned in a big-boy performance as the Owls edged visiting George Washington, 3-2, in an interesting Public League baseball game.

Pitching was only part of it; Lafuente allowed seven hits (all singles) and struck out six. A larger ingredient was his overall feel for the game: He had four assists after scrambling to make plays on comebackers and two more on a pickoff and the capper of a rundown, respectively.

Beforehand? Only one lunch. Or was it two?

"I forget for sure," Lafuente quipped. "They have three different lines to get food in our cafeteria and sometimes I go through all three. Or my friends give me extra food, whether it's burgers or pizza or cheesesteaks. Not on game day, though. I'm trying to gain weight, but it's just not happening.

"The one thing I won't do is eat junk food. The only liquid I drink is water or orange juice. No soda. And I don't eat chips or those kinds of things. I eat a lot of fruit. My mom [Andrea Lebron] keeps me eating healthy. But I'd do it anyway."

Lafuente, who bats leadoff (he went 2-for-3 with a run scored) and plays shortstop when not pitching, is in his second varsity season. Or is that his 22nd?

Admiring his savvy, one would think so.

"I just love the game, and know the game," he said. "I watch as many games on TV as I can - Atlanta's my favorite team - and I'm always paying attention, trying to learn."

Lafuente was thoroughly involved in a huge, fourth-inning sequence. After Chris Zervoudis was retired on a sacrifice bunt to third baseman Miguel Rodriguez, Lafuente noticed that third was left uncovered and runner Bill Jamieson was threatening hard to keep going.

"When I went to third, he had to stop," Lafuente said. "He was so far past second, that gave [first basemen Mathew Padro] a chance to run toward him and get the rundown started. I was going to watch, but... "

He had to get involved. After five other throws, Lafuente ran down Jamieson toward third base and made a short flip to get the out. The putout was made by none other than Padro, who'd scrambled across the infield to help.

"I liked that play, but I thought the pickoff was better," Lafuente said.

That occurred in the fifth inning, which Chris Phares led off with an infield single.

"I've learned you should never use the same speed on pickoffs," Lafuente said. "Got to keep switching it up. I made a real fast move on that one. He wasn't expecting that."

In the sixth, Washington forged a 2-2 tie when a grounder went right under shortstop Alex Perea's glove for an error.

"Have to keep your composure," Lafuente said. "Getting mad is not going to make things any better."

Then came the seventh. With one out and his teammates reminding him to use two hands on a windblown popup, second baseman Juan Ortega instead used one and, oops, dropped the ball. A hit by losing pitcher Marc Tankel loaded the bases.

Next stop, sheer joy. Lafuente ended the game by retiring Rodrigo Valladares on a called third strike and Rolando Fontanez on a grounder to Mr. Redempton, Ortega.

"Javier's such a gutty kid," coach Larry Oliver said. "With every team in our division making the playoffs, I'm trying to hold him back a little so he doesn't get too many innings. If a game starts getting away from us, I get him out of there."

Edison's runs, one apiece in the first, fourth and sixth, came via Oscar Colon's groundout and a double and single by sophomore catcher John Fuentes.

Also vital to the victory, in the third inning, was a sensational diving catch of a liner, steaming toward right-center, by centerfielder Carlos Maldonado.

Lafuente, who lives near 2nd and Lehigh, played youth baseball for the Wissinoming Boys Club. He also learned the game's intricacies from his father, Juan Lafuente, who was something of sandlot whiz in his native Puerto Rico and then a softball standout in Philly.

"I'm already taller," Javier reported. "He's only 5-3."

As often happens, Lafuente absorbed nice comments from his opponents after the game.

"I heard those things even last year," he said. "People say they like how I just play the game, and that they appreciate me. That makes me feel good, and lets me know all my hard work is paying off."

As for the other hard work...

"If I never pick up weight, I'll be OK with it," he said. "If I had to pick one, I'd rather have a few more inches than pounds."

Oh, and a little more strength.

"I was in a little pain from the second inning on," he said. "The trainer was saying the muscles near my ribs are a little too weak."

Not enough height, weight or strength. Good thing Javier Lafuente has ample amounts of know-how and brass.

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