Baron von Bloop
Birmingham Baron rightfielder Michael Jordan has found that hitting a baseball isn't a whole lot easier at the Double A level—where the stadium light is usually terrible for night games and the pitchers throw hard but are wild—than in the majors. In Jordan's first official professional game, last Friday against the Chattanooga Lookouts, he went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. The next night he was hitless in four at bats and struck out three more times. On Sunday he finally got on the board with a pair of bloop singles in four at bats.
"You watch the game, and it looks easy—you don't know that baseball players are athletes," he said. "Going through what I've gone through gives me a different appreciation for the game. Baseball players are athletes even though they have [big] guts."
Jordan developed a greater appreciation for another aspect of baseball on Friday night: the brushback pitch. In the fourth inning, with two outs and a man on third, Chattanooga's John Courtright threw a fastball high and tight that backed a stumbling Jordan off the plate. After a chorus of boos from the crowd, Jordan stepped back in the box and, four pitches later, struck out swinging. "He was trying to get me in an attack mode, get me more aggressive so that I would go after anything from that point on," Jordan said later. "As the rookie I am, I fell for the trick."
For his part, Courtright, 23, was a lot less analytical. "I lost control of it," Court-right said. "He probably thought, What's that young punk trying to do to me?"
While Jordan may not have contributed much to prevent the Barons from getting off to an 0-4 start, he certainly is stimulating fan interest in the Southern League. All games involving the Barons in the league's nine other cities are sure to be sellouts. In fact some fans are buying season tickets to guarantee that they will get a look at Jordan whenever the Barons come to town. According to Greenville ( S.C.) Brave general manager Steve DeSalvo, "People are willing to spend $272 per seat just to get three games' worth of tickets. People are just going crazy."
The first batter of 1994, Ray Lankford of the Cardinals, hit a home run. "Maybe that set the tone for the season," says Expo pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. Absolutely. Get the record books ready, folks, and bring your glove if you're sitting in the bleachers. This looks like it's going to be an offensive year to surpass 1993, which was one of the best hitting seasons in history. The signs:
?Following a spring training in which home runs were hit at an alarming rate, a total of 186 homers were clubbed in 79 games in the first week of the season. That's 58 more than were hit in the first week (80 games) last year. A 29-year-old rookie, infielder Keith Lockhart of the Padres, even got into the act, hitting two homers in his first major league start.
?At week's end 12 teams had an unsettled situation at closer. On April 4 alone, six leads were blown in the eighth inning or later. The next day the Reds lost bullpen ace Rob Dibble for three months with a rotator cuff injury, and the Giants lost Rod Beck for at least two weeks when he was hit by a grounder that broke a bone in his left foot. And in his debut with the Astros, a 34-pitch, one-inning stint against the Expos, Mitch Williams gave up two runs on two hits and three walks (including two with the bases loaded). One scout says Wild Thing couldn't have been throwing harder than 80 mph—and Williams is supposedly healthy.