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Baseball
Tim Kurkjian
July 25, 1994
Feeling Kind of Small
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July 25, 1994

Baseball

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The NBA beckons. Birmingham Baron rightfielder Michael Jordan still fills ballparks across the Southern League, and he remains dedicated to improving his game—but he still can't hit Double A pitching. At week's end Jordan was hitting .192 with no homers and 34 RBIs in 313 at bats. Tim Harkrider, a shortstop for the Midland (Texas) Angels in the California organization, and Buck McNabb, an outfielder for the Jackson (Miss.) Generals in the Houston system, were the only other players who had more than 300 Double A at bats without a homer.

Far East update. Spring training pitching sensations Chan Ho Park of the Dodgers and Mac Suzuki of the Mariners are now toiling in Double A. Park, who made history on April 8 when he became the first Korean to play in the majors, struggled with his control in Los Angeles and was sent to the San Antonio Missions. In 13 starts with the Missions through Sunday, he was 2-4 with a 2.71 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 63 innings. The Japanese-born Suzuki has missed most of the Jacksonville Suns' season because of shoulder tendinitis, but he's pitching again and reportedly throwing in the low 90's.

Top Dog and Big Dog. One of the best pitching prospects in the minors is Salt Lake Buzz righthander LaTroy Hawkins, who has TOP DOG tattooed on his left arm and has pitched like one this season. Hawkins was 9-2 at Double A Nashville before the Twins promoted him to Triple A Salt Lake, where at week's end he was 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA.

While playing basketball for Westside High in Gary, Ind., the 6'5" Hawkins went head-to-head with archrival Roosevelt High's Glenn (Big Dog) Robinson, who went on to star at Purdue and was the first player picked in last June's NBA draft. "I held my own against him," says Hawkins, who in one game got into a fight with Robinson that escalated into a brawl. "He pushed me. Did we get punches in? Sure. Hey, we didn't fight for nothing."

Chip off the ol' block. Through Sunday the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League had sold out 12 of 19 games and averaged 6,214 fans at their 6,305-seat ballpark, which is situated approximately seven miles from Minneapolis's Metrodome. But that success at the gate should come as no surprise, considering that the Saints are run by Mike Veeck, a son of baseball's original promotional genius, Bill Veeck. Mike attributes the Saints' high attendance to low ticket prices: $4 and $6. ("It's $2 if you're a kid, or if you lie about your age, which we like," he says.) But you can bet that some of Mike's zany promotions are just as responsible for filling the seats. On July 31 the Saints will stage Mini-Bat Day, in honor of one of the stunts that made Bill famous: sending midget Eddie Gaedel to the plate as a pinch hitter for the St. Louis Browns. In addition to receiving a miniature baseball bat, Saint fans will watch Bob Cain, who pitched to Gaedel in 1951, return to the mound and pitch to the ghost of Gaedel. "I love to be disrespectful," Veeck says. "I should be arrested."

Just call him Stuck. Eric Stuckenschneider, an outfielder with the Dodgers' Class A Yakima (Wash.) Bears, has the longest last name—16 letters—in professional baseball. No one in major league history has ever had a last name longer than 13 letters. "On my uniform, my name starts at the middle of my back, goes up and around my number and comes around to the middle of my back on the other side—not quite a complete circle, but close," Stuckenschneider says. "Some guy on the other team yelled at me when I was at the plate, 'Can you please spell that in English?' "

Ron Hunt never did this. On July 5, Riverside (Calif.) Pilot catcher James Bonnici was hit by a pitch twice in one inning—on the arm in his first at bat and then on the ribs on his second trip. In his next at bat in the Class A game, the Mariner prospect hit a home run.

Barely Macon it. After losing 19 of their first 20 games, the Class A Macon (Ga.) Braves got hot and won 40 of their next 65, only to have tropical storm Alberto submerge their field, forcing them to play home games on the road for what might turn out to be a month. At one point there was five feet of water standing in rightfield and the clubhouse was flooded; 177 dozen baseballs and dozens of bats were ruined. "I knew it was bad when my white jersey had a water stain halfway up the back—and it was hanging up in my locker," says Macon manager Leon Roberts. "Even my golf clubs got ruined."

Bet the Storm. The Lake Elsinore (Calif.) Storm play in a city of just 24,000, but the Class A club, which is affiliated with the Angels, has challenged its fans to come out to the park on July 25 and help it outdraw its big league neighbors 70 miles to the south, the Padres. The Storm was 34-57 through Sunday, but its miserable showing on the field hadn't stopped the fans from cramming into its new, 7,566-seat ballpark, The Diamond. On July 2 the Storm broke the California League attendance record with a crowd of 7,608, and on some nights the first-year club has come close to outdrawing the Padres, who at week's end were 37-56 and attracting just 16,990 per game to 46,510-seat San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

Minor League Juiced Ball Note of the Year. At week's end pitcher Mike Campbell of the Las Vegas Stars (Triple A, San Diego) was hitting .526 (10 for 19) with one double, two triples and three home runs, all the homers coming off pitcher Brian Conroy of the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Rockies). "It's hilarious," says Campbell. "After the first home run, I rounded second and saw our bullpen running toward the dugout to give me high fives. They were laughing their heads off."

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