The Encino Little League sits in the shadow of the Ventura Freeway, a second home for generations of kids raised in the San Fernando Valley.
The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, played in the Encino Little League.
So did David Forst, general manager of the Oakland Athletics. So did Torey Lovullo, manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Gabe Kapler, the manager of the San Francisco Giants.
That local knowledge might win you a beer or two in some trivia night along Ventura Boulevard, but bragging rights belong to the players, and the best player produced by the Encino Little League in this generation will be staring down his hometown team Monday.
He is Max Fried, the Atlanta Braves’ starting pitcher for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers.
He was not a natural, at least not as soon as he showed up for T-ball. They gave Fried a bat, and he hit the ball and ran the wrong way.
“He didn’t have a clue,” said Jeff Cohen, who succeeded Fried’s father as president of the league. “He hit left-handed and ran to third base.”
Fried soon dominated, leading an Encino team to a district championship for the first time. When the coach asked Fried whether he wanted to get the last out of the district final, to cap his star turn, he said no.
“It was his world,” Cohen said. “He said to the other pitcher, ‘This is your game.’ ”
Fried had plenty of games of his own. He starred at Montclair Prep and then at Harvard-Westlake High, and he was selected with the seventh pick of the 2012 draft. No high school left-hander had been taken that high since Clayton Kershaw, in 2006.
Five days after he was drafted, and on the day after his high school graduation was followed by the traditional all-night party at Disneyland, Fried honored his promise to come back to Encino Little League and throw out the first pitch for the league’s championship game.
He modeled his pitching after Kershaw and Cole Hamels, two sturdy left-handers. His family is Jewish, and his father taught him about the greatest Jewish left-hander of them all, Sandy Koufax. In high school and in the minor leagues, he wore Koufax’s No. 32. Today, Fried wears No. 54.
“When I got to the big leagues, I just got handed a number,” Fried said.
His ascent was less like Kershaw, more like Koufax. Kershaw was drafted at age 18 and called up to the major leagues at 20, and he stayed for good. Koufax signed at 18 but, with the Dodgers restricted from sending him to the minors because of his high signing bonus, he needed six years to anchor himself in the starting rotation.
Fried signed at 18, underwent