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Tuesday, December 10, 2002


[ MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL ]



art
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Punahou alum Justin Wayne, who pitched against Philadelphia on Sept. 10, hopes to stay in the majors with the Florida Marlins.




Wayne’s world

Punahou grad Justin Wayne has
enjoyed life in the major leagues


By Al Chase
achase@starbulletin.com

Justin Wayne remained in Florida for a month after the Florida Marlins concluded their National League season to relax, think, reflect and find closure to a summer of unexpected happenings.

His season started in Florida with the Montreal Expos and spring training. The 6-foot-3 right-hander did not expect to finish the year in the Sunshine State. However, after pitching for three minor-league teams, being traded in July and playing in nine states and two Canadian provinces, Wayne was called up to the major leagues by the Marlins.

Wayne became the 30th person who played high school or college baseball in Hawaii to appear in a major-league game when he made his debut against the New York Mets Sept. 3 at Shea Stadium.

He had five starts for the Marlins during the final month of the season, compiling a 2-3 record.

Oddly enough, he had been a guest of the Expos at Shea Stadium exactly one year earlier after finishing his first full season of pro ball in the Eastern League. When he arrived this year, the game was rained out and he was the only person in the visitor's locker room.

"When I showed up at Shea Stadium, I just wanted to drop off my bags before I went to my aunt's house. It was different from the year before, seeing my jersey there with my name on it," Wayne said. "It's like being in a marathon. You haven't run the marathon, but you are at the starting line.

"It was nice to get that first taste of the big leagues. You really want to stay there for a long time. A lot of good things can happen there, and they did in the month I was there. That's why it is so special."

The route from spring training to that moment in the Shea Stadium locker room was circuitous.

Drafted fifth overall by the Expos in 2000, Wayne had no way of judging how long it would take him to make the big time. He was thankful he went to a hard-core baseball college (Stanford), where excellence was demanded.

When Jeffrey Loria dumped the Montreal franchise into Major League Baseball's lap and purchased the Marlins, he took the majority of the Expos' personnel south to run the Florida franchise.

The second telephone call Wayne received after being part of the seven-player deal between the Expos and Marlins came from Jim Fleming, Florida's vice president for player development and scouting.

"Jim scouted me when I was at Stanford and took me through the draft process, so it was nice to hear a familiar voice," said Wayne, who was lost in emotions ranging from disappointment to excitement at the news.

"I realized I was going to an organization where I knew the people, and this helped settle me down. I needed to focus on short-term and long-term goals."

He moved from Harrisburg, Pa., to Portland, Maine, in the Eastern League, where he pitched his best game of the summer against Bowie (Md.). His first shutout earned pitcher of the week honors.

There was talk of him finishing the season in Portland one week, then talk of him going to Triple-A the next or of continuing in the Arizona Fall League. He ended up going to Calgary, Alberta, in the Pacific Coast League.

"They felt my progression was good enough that they wanted to challenge me at the next level," Wayne said. "It worked out well. I got to know a lot of players about my age that I probably will move up with."

Now, fast-forward to his first starting assignment in the major leagues.

"When I joined the Marlins, the guys were very supportive. Most of them are my age, so it wasn't difficult to really flow right into that team," said Wayne, who was scheduled to pitch the second game of a twin bill against the Mets.

"I have a routine when I pitch, and I waited for four hours at the back end of the doubleheader. (The first game went extra innings.) I'm not used to pitching the back end of a doubleheader.

"I'm anxious. This is a moment I don't want to forget. I went down to the bullpen about the sixth inning. I realize I'm in a major-league stadium. About the 10th inning, I said I have to pick up a baseball and throw even if it's against the wall. The guys in the bullpen are laughing. 'Kid, you've got to learn to relax,' they say.

"The first inning went so fast. Before I know it, I'm back in the dugout and I can't believe how fast I'm breathing. I'm sweating profusely and pitching isn't exactly the most strenuous thing you can do. The next few innings weren't as pretty. My family got some TV time.

"Other than a few pitches that should have been a foot in the zone, I wouldn't take anything back. I learned big-league hitters can hit most anything, even your good pitches, so all I can worry about is what I do."

For a month the Punahou and Stanford graduate enjoyed the perks of being a major-league ball player. There were charter flights and luggage that magically showed up in his hotel room, a private room at that. If he pitched six innings, by the eighth there was a videotape of just his performance ready to be analyzed in the locker room.

"You don't have to listen to a roommate talk to his girlfriend all night or watch a movie you've seen a 100 times," Wayne said. "You set your own guidelines. Everyone is there to assist you, to make you feel as comfortable as possible so you play as well as possible."

Wayne is working out with his brother Hawkeye, who signed a spring training contract with the Marlins on Nov. 4.

Next month he will attend a Major League Baseball rookie development camp where all aspects of being a major-leaguer are discussed. Former major-leaguers, hall-of-famers and security people will talk about how to keep oneself safe and avoid temptation and pitfalls.

"It's a great opportunity to meet a lot of really good young ballplayers you'll be playing against," said Wayne, whose goal is to be on the charter when the Marlins break spring training camp in March.



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