April 08, 2008

For USC baseball players too young to remember the Dodgers' run to the World Series in the late '80s, a simple trip to a mall or restaurant can turn into a lesson in Los Angeles baseball history. All the Trojans have to do is bring along a certain freshman pitcher.

Twenty years after Orel Hershiser's Cy Young, record-setting 1988 season -- the year the Dodgers won their last World Series title -- there is a Hershiser pitching in Los Angeles again. Orel's youngest son, Jordan, is a reliever at USC, where he is looking to become more than just a side note to the name he and teammates are quickly learning still holds a special place in the city's heart.

"Living in Southern California it will come up more often than not," said Jordan, who went to high school in Texas and hadn't lived in Los Angeles since he was 7. "Whenever I go to pay for something, people see the name and ask. I'm at the mall and it comes up. It's something that's normal to me now. I don't view it as a burden."

Notoriety around campus is minimal, with the 6-foot-8 freshman saying "my height makes me stand out more than my name at this point." His roommates describe him as a typical teenager who likes to play basketball and video games when he's not busy with business classes or baseball.

It's those times he's around people old enough to remember Orel's record streak of 59-consecutive scoreless innings (Jordan was born during that streak), the league-best 23-1 record, World Series MVP or any other highlights of the 1988 season that was the pinnacle of Orel's 13 seasons with the Dodgers that the physical resemblance is enough to ignite reminiscing.

"We go out to restaurants and people recognize him," said teammate and roommate Danny Beck. "They're like, 'Oh yeah, you're Orel's son.' And they start talking about everything he did in '88.

"He's well-known, certainly. But Jordan's one of the guys. He wants to be. He fits in great."

Jordan, 19, recalls going to USC football games and the Tournament of Roses Parade when the family lived in Los Angeles, but most of his early baseball memories aren't until Orel was playing with the Cleveland Indians. The younger Hershiser became a regular in the clubhouse, mingling with players and later serving as a bat boy for the Giants and Mets.

Orel's accomplishments were rarely a topic of conversation.

"The kids had enough pressure on them being sons of a major leaguer," Orel said. "To hear stories of the Bulldog and have them think they have to live up to that, that's not fair. So it's not something I ever really sat down and talked about. He probably hears that more when fans come up to me and talk about it than he does at the dinner table."

Following in the footsteps of a legend took its toll on Jordan, who opted not to play baseball during seventh and eighth grades and instead focused on basketball. His brother Quinton gave up baseball after youth leagues and is no longer involved in sports.

"The pressure of being Orel Hershiser's son kind of got to me," Jordan said. "Everyone expects you to be as good as him. At times I felt like if I didn't throw a perfect game and go 4-for-4, I was a disappointment. I've gotten over that."

Jordan started out as a shortstop. He loved hitting and could often be seen around the house mimicking the batting stance of his favorite player, Ken Griffey Jr. However, as he grew and got too tall for one position after another, Jordan realized his future was in pitching.

Aside form "a couple years, where around 12, 13 years old you don't want to listen to anything your parents say," Jordan says he's absorbed as much pitching knowledge as he could from his father, whom he still talks to at least a few times a week. The similarities on the mound are noticeable; neither pitcher is overpowering.

"I never tell him, 'This is what I did and that's how he should do it,' " Orel said. "It's more just exposing him to different ideas and giving him a chance to see what works for him. I begin with, 'Have you tried this?' instead of, 'This is the way I did it.' What I did worked for me. If he chooses a different path, that might work better for him."

Jordan arrived at USC expecting to redshirt this season, a notion that didn't deter him considering his dad was a junior before he made his college team. An encouraging fall earned Jordan a spot in the Trojans' bullpen. There's been talk of giving him a mid-week start.

"He busted his hump and worked diligently in fall ball to the point where now he's in the mix,'' USC pitching coach Tom House said. "He's a year ahead of schedule."

Hershiser has pro potential, according to House, a former major league pitching coach, but at this point he is in the early stages of his development. The right hander entered April having made seven appearances with a 5.23 ERA, 11 hits allowed with eight strikeouts in 10.1 innings.

"I feel very natural on a baseball field," Jordan said. "That's where I've been most of my life. I've always wanted to play baseball. I don't think I realized the work required to get to the next level until I got here ... I didn't realize how much really goes into it and how hard you really have to work to be as good as you want. I think it's been good for me. The whole experience has been great."

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