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Ah, minor league baseball, where one can only dream of "The Show." 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 baseball fans don’t have to travel far to catch their favorite team’s future stars, who will likely be in “The Show” within the next few seasons.

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We talked to some Padres minor leaguers, working hard to one day get to "The Show."

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. Other Padres can be found in Double-A Mobile, Alabama, or Triple-A Portland, Oregon. Some of the few Padre minor leaguers most likely to one day get to "The Show" include pitchers Dennis Tankersley, Ben Howard and Jacob Peavy, and outfielders Ben Johnson and Vince Faison.

“You’ve got to earn your way up there first,” added Xavier Nady, who actually played one game in "The Show" in 1999. “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.”

Nady's opportunity to pitch-hit one time in 1999 (he singled) has something to do with the fact that he is one of the most prized prospects in minor league baseball. The Storm is coached by former major leaguer George Hendrick. 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 Tankersley, who earned a promotion last season from Lake Elsinore to Triple-A Portland. “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.”

Craig Colbert has coached in the minor leagues for years. Some games can give him headaches.

“We get some big leads and guys think they’ve won the game,” Colbert explains. “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 legally drink alcohol. Still, a player with Nady, Tankersley and Johnson’s talent doesn’t go unnoticed.

When popular Padre Carlos Hernandez was traded to St. Louis in 2000, it was Johnson whom the team acquired in the deal. And although Johnson said 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 last 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.”

Nady, Howard and Johnson only need to look to Sean Burroughs for inspiration.

Perhaps the Padres most heralded minor league prospect, Burroughs made his major league debut April 2, 2002.

“Guys like us in the minor leagues we’re working our way up,” Burroughs explained last season. “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.

“Yeah, definitely,” Nady said. “Sometimes you catch yourself by surprise you know, and remembering where you’re at every day and the opportunities and so forth in my past and now to be where I am.”

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Jul 17 2002, 15:36:06
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