For the last three off-seasons, Springer has traveled from Fresno to Hough's home in Brea, Calif., to spend a few days working on the knuckleball. "He's amazing," says Springer. "My knuckler isn't nearly as good as his."
But Springer will keep throwing his until someone tells him to stop.
The Next Babe Ruth?
One American League general manager says that the best college pitcher and the best college shortstop in the country are the same person, 18-year-old Frankie Rodriguez of Howard Junior College in Big Spring, Texas. The question is, Will he be eligible for the draft, which starts June 3?
Rodriguez, a Brooklyn native, was the Red Sox's second-round pick in the 1990 draft, but he turned down a $125,000 signing bonus to enroll at Howard. The Red Sox retain his rights until this year's draft. Rodriguez has improved dramatically in the last year, and Boston is said to be prepared to offer him $250,000, the most it has ever paid a draft pick.
There's an outside chance, however, that Rodriguez will reject Boston because he resents the way it tried to lowball him in negotiations last year. "I know he was disappointed about that," says a source close to Rodriguez. "He doesn't even know if he should go out to dinner with the Red Sox when they come to see him."
Rodriguez wants to play shortstop professionally. The Sox first wanted him to pitch, but now they'll let him play short if that's what it takes to sign him. At week's end, Rodriguez, who had played 58 games, led the nation's junior college players in home runs (25) and was hitting .476. Still, a number of teams want him as a pitcher. His fastball has been clocked in the high 90's, and through Sunday he was 10-1 with a 2.53 ERA.
"He's one of those stallions that come along once in a great while," says Howard's coach, Bill Griffin. "He's a can't miss on the mound, but can he ever hit."
Little Big Man
Last Thursday the Braves moved into first place in the National League West. Not since June 8, 1984, had Atlanta led the division after the month of April. A big reason the Braves are playing better is the smallest player in the league, 5'6", 150-pound shortstop Rafael Belliard, who was signed by Atlanta as a free agent last December.