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Former battery mates living the dream

Nationals pitcher Collin Balester and Angels catcher Hank Conger, teammates at Huntington Beach High, face each other for first time at big league level.

June 29, 2011|By Mike Sciacca, michael.sciacca@latimes.com
  • Collin Balester (left) and Hank Conger (right) flank their former coach, Huntington Beach High baseball Coach Benji Medure, prior to the start of Tuesday's game between the Nationals and Angels.
Collin Balester (left) and Hank Conger (right) flank…

Seven years ago, it was routine for Collin Balester and Hank Conger to discuss all aspects of the game on the Huntington Beach High baseball diamond.

Balester was a star on the mound for the Oilers and during the final two years of his prep career, it was Conger who provided the target for his pitches behind the plate. At the end of that 2003-04 school year — which included a successful 2004 season for the Oilers — Balester was drafted by the then-Montreal Expos. Conger, meanwhile, was getting ready to play summer ball before starting his junior year at Huntington.

The two have continually kept in contact through the years, keeping abreast of how the other was doing as each tried to carve out professional baseball careers. Monday turned out to be special for the pair: it marked the first time that Conger's and Balester's teams would meet on a major league baseball field.

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Balester and the Washington Nationals were in town to start a three-game series with Conger and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium. The Angels won the opener Monday, 4-3, on Maicer Izturis' walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning. They also took Tuesday's game, scoring eight runs in the bottom of the eighth to pull away to an 11-5 victory.

They were able to do some catching up during batting practice and when Conger was catching in the bullpen, and also met up before Tuesday's game.

"We do our normal 'check-up' a couple of times a month, asking, 'How are you doing?' 'How's your game going?' " said Balester, a right-handed relief pitcher who was making his first appearance at Angel Stadium as a major leaguer.

"It was really cool to be on the same field with Collin," Conger said. "You see guys you know when you play travel ball and minor ball, but I was thinking before the (Monday) game how weird it was to have two guys out of the same high school, facing off against each other. It was pretty awesome to be in that moment."

Neither local product played in Monday's game but both competed Tuesday. Conger went one for three and hit his fourth home run of the season, a two-run shot. He also walked.

Conger hit a 2-0 fastball off Ryan Mattheus with one out in the bottom of the eighth. It was his first career home run at Angel Stadium and the first time that his family, parents Yun and Eun and brother Adrian, 21, witnessed him hitting a homer as a big leaguer.

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