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When you’re a minor league baseball player you have only one motivation: Get to “The Show.”
“The Show,” as was eloquently portrayed in the baseball film, Bull Durham starring Kevin Costner, is - of course - the major leagues.
And Padre fans don’t have to travel far to catch the team’s future stars, who will likely be in “The Show” within the next few seasons.
The team’s single-A California League affiliate is located in Lake Elsinore, just 75 miles from San Diego. “The Diamond,” as it is called, offers fans the opportunity to view the Padres future stars up close and personal including pitchers Ben Howard and Jacob Peavy, first baseman Xavier Nady and outfielders Ben Johnson and Vince Faison.
“You’ve got to earn your way up there first,” said Nady, who was chosen to the California League All-Star team in this his first season in professional baseball. “And so this is a chance to work on things and have fun and develop friendships with players and coaches and work on your game to get to the big leagues as soon as you can.”
The Storm is coached by Craig Colbert, who last season coached some of the same players for the Padres single-A affiliate in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It takes a certain personality to manage at this level since you’re dealing with mostly professional ballplayers who are under age 21. And long darn long bus rides as Bull Durham reenacted.
For the majority of their careers, the Padres minor league players have dominated opponents but when they get to the minors their ego’s can get a quick reality check.
“I’m used to college ball or high school where you can pretty much have your way with guys,” said Dennis Tankersley, a starting pitcher who earned a promotion early this season from Lake Elsinore to double-AA Mobile, Alabama. “I’ve got to learn to use my fielders more because I’ve never been that type of pitcher before. I’ve been a strikeout pitcher.”
“If I only threw two pitches, it’s better than walking him with a full count throwing a couple of (extra) pitches,” Tankersley added. “You know, I’ve just got to start throwing strikes and getting people out sooner in the count so in August I can still go six, seven innings.”
Last year at Fort Wayne, the Wizards gave Colbert headaches. When I visited Fort Wayne Stadium on September 2, 2000, Colbert’s team jumped out to a quick lead and then thought the game was over. It wasn’t and Fort Wayne lost.
“We get some big leads and guys think they’ve won the game,” Colbert said then. “That drives me insane. That can’t happen. For me, I’m not going to let them get away with it.”
But it does happen. Because it’s the minors. And these are kids after all, many of whom aren’t even old enough to drink alcohol like Johnson, who just turned 20 on June 18. Still, a player with Nady, Tankersley and Johnson’s talent doesn’t go unnoticed.
When popular Padre Carlos Hernandez was traded to St. Louis last season, it was Johnson whom the Padres acquired. And although Johnson told me he doesn’t feel the pressure of being one of the Friars top prospects, he has lofty goals for himself anyway.
“I just don’t want to play in the major leagues,” Johnson explained. “I want to be a Hall-of-Famer.”
Like Nady and Howard, Johnson was selected to the California League All-Star team this season.
“He’s got a pretty good idea about the game,” Colbert said of Johnson. “He’s a great kid. He’s got a good arm and he’s got good speed. He’s got a lot of tools.”
Yeah, so does Sean Burroughs.
Perhaps the Padres most heralded minor league prospect, Burroughs is expected to be playing regularly at Qualcomm Stadium next season, if not sooner. The third baseman currently plays for the Padres triple-AAA affiliate in Portland, Oregon.
“Guys like us in the minor leagues we’re working our way up,” Burroughs explained. “It’s a good experience to meet guys. It’s a good experience every day.”
The long bus rides for Storm players to California League opponents like Adelanto, Modesto, Visalia and Stockton offer the opportunity for players to get closer. Many aspects of the minor leagues are also unique to these players, like signing autographs for the first time.
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Feb 28 2002, 17:29:40
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