Remaining inconspicuous on the field is another matter. While his diving stops of hot grounders and backhand tosses on double plays draw raves, Hairston, 25, also punctuates his play with end-over-end flips of his bat after strikeouts, exasperated shrugs during arguments with umpires and the like—touches that haven't endeared him to opposing players. "I want to play with fire, with enthusiasm for the game," says Hairston, whose father, Jerry Sr., spent nearly all of 14 seasons as a designated hitter and outfielder for the White Sox. (An uncle and a grandfather also played in the majors.) "Sometimes it might come off as something else. What can I say? I'm a passionate person."
Hairston's fire sometimes draws return fire. During a June 7 game against the Yankees, Hairston slammed his bat on the ground after popping out on a first-pitch Roger Clemens fastball, an act that earned him a long staredown from the Rocket. In his final at bat Hairston had to get out of the way of a Clemens fastball that buzzed behind his head.
"I meant no disrespect to Roger; he was one of my favorite players growing up," says Hairston. "I was mad at myself for popping up. Besides, how many times do other major leaguers [slam their bats]? Tino Martinez? Paul O'Neill?"
Says Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove, "When a player's personality rubs somebody the wrong way, it's a matter of interpretation. Bottom line, Jerry plays hard, and he plays to win."
Since hitting .190 in April, the 5'10", 175-pound Hairston had batted .327, raising his season average through Sunday to .278 with four home runs, 29 RBIs and a team-high 15 stolen bases. Hairston has excellent range defensively but needs to show more restraint once he gets to the ball, rather than always attempting spectacular throws. (Of his six throwing errors, only two have come on routine balls.) For now, though, Hairston's all-out style remains his calling card.
"I'm passionate about everything," said Hairston, pulling his black uniform socks over scabs on both knees before last Saturday's game against the Phillies. "The other night I was watching the NBA Finals, just standing in front of the TV yelling for the 76ers because I really love guys like Allen Iverson, guys who play with heart and passion."
—Daniel G. Habib
Rey of Hope
Indians at Royals, June 22-24 Annual visits from a fielding magician such as Cleveland's Omar Vizquel have reminded Kansas City fans of what the Royals have rarely had: a first-rate shortstop at the top of his game. Miracles happen, even in K.C. This season Rey Sanchez, a nondescript 10-year journeyman, has been—save for a certain ultra-rich Texas Ranger—baseball's best all-around shortstop. A career .273 hitter entering this season, Sanchez through Sunday was batting .314 and had a 21-game hitting streak that ended on June 3. His two errors were the fewest by an American League starting shortstop.
No, the Royals aren't going anywhere, but Sanchez might be—to the All-Star Game.