Tuesday, September 18, 2001
[ PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL ]
ONE BIG FACTOR first-year professionals need to adjust to is the length of the season, especially position players.
New pros learn to
play every day
By Al Chase
This is more true in a full-season league, where the number of games is triple a college schedule.
Dane Sardinha started his pro career in the California League, considered the most competitive of the three high Class-A circuits.
"It went all right for my first experience, but it was a long season," said Sardinha, who got little rest early in the campaign because he was the only healthy catcher on the Mudville Nine (Stockton, Calif.) roster.
"Defensively, I did as well as I expected. After one game, you pretty much get a feel for what the opposing batter can do," the former Kamehameha and Pepperdine standout said.
Sardinha said he struggled offensively in the first half, but felt he did better in the second half.
"I'm going to instructional league to work with their (Cincinnati Reds) hitting instructors on little things like my approach at the plate and the mental side of things," he said.
Sardinha was the only rookie on the Mudville roster. He finished with a .235 batting average and was named the team's most valuable player.
Bronson Sardinha, Dane's younger brother, played 46 games at shortstop and nine as the designated hitter for the Yankees in the Gulf Coast League. He was consistent at the plate, batting .303. The 34th overall pick in the June draft, he displayed decent power with 14 doubles, three triples and four home runs. He was successful on 11 of 13 stolen base attempts.
Bronson ended the season by hitting a double and a home run with three RBIs as the Yankees beat the Dodgers, 5-3, in the league championship game.
New York then sent Bronson to Tampa in the Florida State League to work out with the team because they expect he will be there next year. He also will go to instructional league or, as the Yankees call it, minicamp.
Rex Rundgren needed several weeks to make the adjustment to pro ball while playing shortstop for the Utica, N.Y., Blue Sox, the Florida Marlins' team in the short-season New York-Penn League.
His batting average hovered just below .200 until late July when the Mid-Pacific Institute graduate suddenly found success at the plate. He hit at a .300 clip over the final six weeks of the season to finish with a .251 mark.
Jeff Coleman started in the Arizona League where he racked up six saves in eight appearances for the Athletics.
But, it was a different story for the former Hawaii right-hander when he was promoted to Visalia in the California League.
Switched to a starting role, he picked up four quick defeats and went back to the bullpen.
"I was called up to Visalia, because one of their starters was hurt. When he came back, they told me I was going to stay because I did well," Coleman said. "I had 16 appearances and did well in 13. In the other three, I got hit hard, but, in all honesty, I was working on some things."
Visalia pitching coach Fernando Arroyo was trying to get the former Rainbow right-hander to keep his weight back so he would have a more consistent arm angle. This is the same thing UH coach Carl Furutani tried to help Coleman with this past spring.
"People have been telling me this since I was 16 years old," said Coleman. "My goal at the start of the season was to make the Cal League and I did that. I'm very, very happy with my season."
St. Louis School product Brandon League, who took time to come to terms with the Toronto Blue Jays, pitched about half the season for Medicine Hat, Alberta, where he was 2-2 with a 4.66 ERA. He fanned 38, an average of one per inning, and walked just 11.
"It was great experience. I learned a lot playing baseball every day. As you play with older and more experienced guys, you only get better," said League.
The Blue Jays are sending the right-hander to instructional league in Florida so he can get more innings of work in preparation for spring training.
Rodney Choy Foo and Kaulana Kuhaulua were saddled with injuries much of the year, but managed to play some the final two weeks of the Appalachian League season. Choy Foo was limited to being a designated hitter for Burlington, N.C., while Kuhaulua played a little at first base for the Elizabethton (Tenn.) Twins, instead of his regular position, shortstop.
Bryce Uegawachi played 55 games at shortstop for the Mahoning Valley (Niles, Ohio) Scrappers. The Kaiser and Hawaii Pacific product had to scrap to keep his batting average above the Mendoza Line. He was successful, finishing at .204.
"I had to adjust to a higher strike zone. That, and playing every day and the long bus trips," said Uegawachi, drafted after his senior year at HPU by the Cleveland Indians.
Playing for the western-most team in the New York-Penn League, Uegawachi got his fill of six-to-eight hour overnight trips to several towns in upstate New York, Williamsport, Pa., Augusta, N.J., and Brooklyn, N.Y.
"You get tired, but you think about what you are doing. It's work, but baseball is fun. And, the fans we had were really good," he said.
Brian Rooke, an outfielder from Hawaii-Hilo, and Billy Pieper, who played third base at Kamehameha but concentrated on football at UCLA until an injury ended that career, struggled mightily at the plate.
Rooke hit just .148 for Vancouver in the Northwest League after being drafted in the 31st round by the Oakland Athletics. And, his average actually improved in August as seven of his 16 hits came in the final three weeks of the season.
Pieper, playing for Spokane in the Northwest League after signing as a nondrafted free agent with the Kansas City Royals, finished with a .142 batting average.