Lewis made the most of his big break
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the last in a series on the Medford Sports Hall of Fame induction class of 2012. Today, the "Athlete" category.
Scott Lewis was in the middle of the biggest break of his baseball career, and he didn't know it.
The former Medford Senior High pitcher who went on to play 10 years of professional baseball — including a five-year stretch with the California Angels — was preparing to pitch for the Medford Mustangs in the summer of 1984.
At a tournament in Carson City, Nev., he warmed up in the first inning. The opponent was out of Cherry Creek, Colo., and was the reigning Connie Mack World Series champion.
"We were definitely the underdogs in that game," says Lewis.
His concentration was broken when the second-base umpire began talking to him.
"He was telling me where to throw pitches," says Lewis. "My first reaction was, 'Why is this guy telling me how to pitch?'"
Lewis decided to follow the suggestions "until I got shelled, then I'd tell him to be quiet."
That never happened. Lewis pitched a complete game, allowed two runs and struck out "14 or 15," he says.
At the hotel that night, the umpire showed up at his room, wanting to talk.
"I wouldn't let him in," says Lewis. "I still didn't know who he was."
Lewis called Mustangs manager Leo Noahr, who told him the man was Fred Dallimore, the head coach at Nevada-Las Vegas, and Lewis should let him in.
Lewis wasn't committed to a school and was considering the junior-college route. When Dallimore offered him a scholarship on the spot, he jumped.
To this day, he's thankful he didn't rebuff the meddling umpire.
Lewis, who is one of eight athletes who will be inducted into the Medford Sports Hall of Fame tonight, pitched four years at UNLV and is tied for third on the school career victory list with 30. He's No. 2 in innings pitched (4252/3) and No. 4 in strikeouts (341).
He was taken by the Angels in the 11th round of the 1988 major league draft and would end up facing some of the greatest hitters in baseball history.
The road to the big leagues was hardly smooth.
Despite his success in high school, Lewis, who now lives in Costa Mesa, Calif., received relatively little recognition.
In 1984, he went 10-1 with an ERA of 1.20 and pitched state semifinal and final wins. Medford defeated McNary in the championship game, 6-3. McNary had only allowed one run in three previous playoff games.
"I never stopped thinking about that team even when I started playing at higher levels," says Lewis. "We were overachievers. We had tons of talent but were overlooked early. By the time we started getting noticed, we were rolling through the playoffs."
Lewis was an all-state outfielder, batting .560, but he didn't receive any postseason recognition for his pitching, a snub that befuddled him.
Before his senior year, he also played football and basketball. But his development in those sports was curtailed when he suffered a broken neck while diving into the Rogue River at TouVelle Park prior to his junior year.
Lewis returned to basketball at the tail end of the season, then didn't make varsity the following year.
"That lit a fire in me and I never really got over it," says Lewis. "Looking back, it made me focus on baseball. I really started working on it and taking it seriously. It actually was a blessing. You don't really know what your blessings are until after the fact."
Lewis was slight of build in high school but filled out his 6-foot-3 frame in college. He always was considered a control pitcher — he received a minor-league award for it — but as he developed, his fastball climbed into the 90-plus mph range.
Upon being drafted, Lewis sped through the minors and was in the big leagues within three years.
His best season was 1992, going 4-0 and appearing in 21 games, starting two. His ERA was 3.99. The team's starting rotation included Jim Abbott, Mark Langston, Chuck Finley and Bert Blyleven.
Lewis' best ERA was 2.20 in his rookie season, 1990, and the following year he started a career-high 11 games.
Mostly a reliever, his five-year record was 9-9 with an ERA of 5.01.
Among the players he had success against was Ken Griffey Jr., whom he faced regularly from the low minors on.
One player who gave him loads of trouble was Jerald Clark of the San Diego Padres, a career .257 hitter who repeatedly took Lewis deep the first half-dozen times or so they squared off.
"It got to a point where it was a joke on the team," says Lewis.
In one spring training game, Angels pitching coach Marcel Lachemann visited the mound and made a suggestion.
"Ever tried to throw it right down the middle?" said the coach.
"Serve it up?" said Lewis. "What are you talking about?"
"What's the worst thing, he hits it out?" said Lachemann. "You've seen that movie."
So Lewis delivered a four-seam fastball that might as well have "been on a tee," he says, and Clark swung right through it. The hitter did it again and again, striking out.
"He never hit the ball hard off me again," says Lewis.
Lewis now owns his own construction company and is co-owner of Raygen Energy, a renewable energy solutions company. He has three children and stays close to baseball through youth coaching and by following young pitchers.
In particular, he's been an advocate of pitching prospects from Medford.
He and Brad Arnsberg were among the early stars to come out of the Rogue Valley, "But I still don't think it gets the exposure it should because it's seasonal," says Lewis. "I've pushed for a few kids up there."
Now there's a push for him via the Hall of Fame.
"I'm happy and excited about it," says Lewis. "It's something that's very important to me and something I didn't really expect. I thought it would never happen.
"It's funny. You go through your whole career and you don't really care who recognizes you except your hometown."
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org