Tips for future stars Former Major Leaguer tells youngsters to do homework ALL-STAR WEEK 1993 OUT OF THE PARK

July 11, 1993|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

Tony Oliva pulled the bat back and strode into a swing, and 60 pairs of young eyes took it all in. It was the stroke that won two American League batting titles and earned a .304 lifetime batting average.

"When you swing, your eyes should be right here," he said,

squinting down the barrel of the bat like an ace carpenter seeking true lumber. The 52-year-old former All Star showed boys and girls at Patterson Park the proper grip and how to step into the stroke and shared three other secrets of the game: practice, practice, practice.

"If you play only once a week, it's not enough. If you want to develop the aptitude to be good, you have to take it seriously," said Mr. Oliva, the former outfielder who played 15 seasons for the Minnesota Twins, appeared in eight All-Star games and won a Gold Glove. "It's the same way you go to school. You have to do your homework."

The youngsters heard yesterday morning from Mr. Oliva, Luis Tiant Jr., who pitched 17 Major League seasons, and Joe Charboneau, the 1980 Rookie of the Year outfielder of the Cleveland Indians. As part of the All-Star Game festivities in Baltimore, the three former big-leaguers talked to the children for about an hour about how to succeed in baseball and in school, then gave out autographed baseballs and certificates.

"School is the best thing you can have" said Mr. Tiant, 52, who played in three All-Star games and compiled a lifetime earned run average of 3.30, winning 229 games and losing 172. "Without education, you don't go anyplace."

Mr. Charboneau, 38, who played three seasons with Cleveland before his career was cut short by a back injury, presented a clinic on fielding.

With the appearance of Mr. Oliva and Mr. Tiant, both of whom are from Cuba, the event was targeted at Hispanic youngsters, with some publicity handled by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's liaison to the Hispanic community. But the children represented an ethnic mix with a common bond: baseball.

It was all harmonious enough until the question and answer period started. Gender warfare broke out when 11-year-old Naomi Sabastro of Baltimore asked Mr. Tiant: "Why can't women play in the Major Leagues?"

The women in the crowd cheered. It turned to hooting when Mr. Tiant began his answer: "We men believe women aren't strong enough to do that."

Mr. Tiant quelled the disturbance by adding: "That's what men believe. I don't believe that. She can do whatever she can do."

Paul Rodriguez, 9, of Baltimore, said he had not heard of the three players before, but said he learned about fielding and reading the catcher's signals. He acknowledges he's new to the game.

"I learned baseball when I was 7," he said.

Tony Zakroski, 12, said he's met big-leaguers Chris Hoiles and Brady Anderson, but the thrill is hardly gone.

"It's good that the players came out so kids can learn right off a Major Leaguer," said Tony, who said he plays baseball "just about every day" in the summer.

"It doesn't matter with who. I just play."

*

Many of the youngsters and grown-ups came to play at Major League Baseball's All-Star FanFest at the Convention Center yesterday, where there was a half-hour wait at the video batting cages much of the day.

Folks were allowed five swings at a pitching machine hidden behind a video screen where they saw the image of a Major League pitcher in wind-up and delivery. It looks like the big leagues, but the balls are slowed down to about half Major League speed, or between 40 and 50 mph.

Even at that, Brett Dillon, 12, of Carroll County, had a little trouble picking up the heat from New York Mets right-hander Dwight Gooden. Brett connected for one grounder to the left side but swung and missed four times.

"The thing that made me nervous was you had to sign a thing over there that said they're not responsible for any accidents," said Brett. "I just didn't want to get hit by any baseballs."

*

If the pitch speeds weren't big league, the prices of most of the items for sale were.

Leaving aside the blue-chip collectibles, the food vendors were also playing in the ozone.

Check the soft-serve ice cream cones for $2 apiece and the "Home Run Trot Hot Dog" for $2.95. As if to vie with Major League Baseball for the 1993 Hype Award, the same vendor offered a "Thirst Quenching Soda" for $1.95.

Then there were the All-Star Game caps for $21 and the leather team logo jackets by J. H. Design of Los Angeles, the most expensive of which went for $2,100 and featured lambskin leather with individually cut leather team logos. An all-leather All-Star jacket in black and orange was offered for $1,485.

*

FanFest was packed, with 20,000 to 25,000 tickets sold yesterday, said Ricky Clemons, manager of international and business public relations for Major League Baseball. That's a sellout, he said.

The Convention Center warmed as the air conditioning strained to keep pace, and everywhere you turned, there was more music, more sound effects, more video and more play-by-play.

Dennis Compton, of Bel Air, said his 5-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter appeared to be suffering a case of sensory overload.

"It's too much to see, too much," he said. "They can't take it all in."

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