Back with a Bang
Ken Caminiti has returned from the DL to restore the Astros' swagger
Astros third baseman Ken Caminiti, who missed 79 games this season with a strained right calf, was not a happy man in the first few days after he came off the disabled list on Aug. 16. "I had a spring training body, and every bit of me was sore," says Caminiti, who was hitting .292 with two home runs when he was disabled in May. "I was unsure how I was going to make a play defensively, and I was scared offensively."
Even a struggling Caminiti was a welcome presence for Houston, whose once power-laden offense had been curtailed by the season-long absence of injured Moises Alou and further sapped by stints on the DL for Derek Bell, Carl Everett and Richard Hidalgo. After a slow start (two singles in his first 13 at bats) the switch-hitting Caminiti played himself into shape and, in the process, restored some power to the Astros' lineup. Since his return he was hitting .299 with nine homers and 32 RBIs in 31 games through Sunday. With Caminiti back, Houston went 22-10 and was clinging to its lead in the National League Central over the tenacious Reds, who were 3l� games back.
The Astros, who haven't coasted to a third straight division title as expected, had also missed the swagger they hoped Caminiti would bring when they signed him to a two-year, $9.5 million deal in the off-season. "That's a good word for it, swagger," says manager Larry Dierker. "He has a presence; you know the other team looks across the field, and it's intimidating."
Most intimidating have been the three game-winning homers Caminiti has hit since coming back, including an eighth-inning grand slam against the Mets on Aug. 31 and a two-run shot against the Phillies on Sept. 9 that gave Houston a 3-1 win and its first-ever sweep of a seven-game road trip. He will also be an emotional presence down the stretch for a team that comprises mostly reserved guys like Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. "When those guys hit home runs, they don't like to show their emotions," says Caminiti, who indulges in thudding chest bumps with teammates after clouting a dinger. "When I hit home runs, I like to hit people, and I want them to hit me."
New Bat in the Order
Sam Takes On The Slugger
Karim Garcia breaks bats. Last season with the Diamondbacks, he says, he snapped two dozen while taking cuts in 333 at bats and in batting practice. The year before, with Triple A Albuquerque, he broke nearly as many. This season, with the Tigers? "Two," says Garcia, smiling. "I use my bat in BP, I use it in tire game. I never break it. You can't break the Sam."
Some 30 major leaguers are swinging the Sam Bat, a maple (instead of the traditional ash) bat produced individually in the garage of Ottawa woodworker Sam Holman. Sluggers like Barry Bonds and Carlos Delgado use the Sam Bat, as do gap hitters like Royce Clayton and part-timers like Garcia. The consensus among Sam swingers, says the Rangers' Clayton, is clear: "Soon, everyone will be using the Sam. To be able to use the same bat for months, in games and in BP, is unheard of. As far as being comfortable at the plate, it's a huge advantage."
Holman, a 54-year-old former stagehand at Ottawa's National Arts Centre who grew up in South Dakota, got the idea for his bat three years ago when Bill MacKenzie, a friend and Rockies scout, complained to him about the alarming number of broken bats. "Wooden propellers are maple because it's a very hard, very durable wood," Holman says. "So are bowling pins and drumsticks. Why not bats?"
Holman got a 32-ounce Louisville Slugger from MacKenzie and made a duplicate out of maple. It weighed 37 ounces; too heavy. Holman reworked the bat four times, making it lighter. In September 1996 he got the Triple A Ottawa Lynx to use his bat, which now weighed 33 ounces. In a month of BP by a handful of players, it never broke. The next April, Holman asked three Blue Jays—Joe Carter, Carlos Delgado and Ed Sprague—to use a Sam in batting practice. Carter liked it so much that, later that season, he sneaked one into a game against the Brewers. He homered, and a legend was born.