Hammonds knee-deep in potential

SIDELIGHT

August 11, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Jeffrey Hammonds' rookie season would come to an end tonight if the strike hits as scheduled and no settlement is reached in time to save the season.

The numbers suggest he has had a successful rookie season. Hammonds is hitting .296 with 18 doubles, eight home runs, 31 RBIs and 45 runs in 68 games.

However, a strained ligament in his right knee has prevented this from being as successful a season as Hammonds had hoped.

"Next year, I know I'll be healthy," said Hammonds, who faces possible off-season knee surgery. "I'll do what it takes, whatever that may be, to become healthy. And when I am, you'll see a big difference."

Hammonds is glad the strike did not come a week earlier, which would have prevented him from playing at Yankee Stadium for the first time. Hammonds was on the disabled list when the Orioles made their first trip to Yankee Stadium.

"Here I am playing alongside Rafael Palmeiro and Cal Ripken, playing against Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly," Hammonds said. "I don't just want to be out there on the same field as them. I want to be seen in the same light as them. I want to try to become a great ballplayer."

The fan in Hammonds, 23, came to the surface when he singled in Tuesday's 6-5 win over the Yankees.

"There I was standing at first base, looking at Don Mattingly play first base in his own park," Hammonds said. "I just had to ask him to sign a bat or a ball. He's going to send over a bat and a ball. There is no other crowd in the league like it. This is a dream come true being able to represent my team playing against the team I grew up watching."

Hammonds, who was 2-for-5 last night, hopes the next time he plays at Yankee Stadium, he will be at 100 percent physically.

"I'm not able to do the things now I was able to do in April," he said. "That was the one time I was feeling healthy, actually feeling like myself. I had more speed and more pop at the plate."

Hammonds has played through the pain, rarely asking for a day off.

"If anybody had any doubts about his mental toughness, and I'm not saying anybody did, but if they did, those should have disappeared the day he slid with a brace on his leg, broke the brace and everybody thought it was his knee popping," Orioles base-running coach Davey Lopes said.

"He just hobbled off the field, took the brace off, went back in there and played. That should have removed any thought of his not being able to play with a considerable amount of pain. To me, the only thing that is going to stop Jeffrey is injuries."

Lopes has been impressed with Hammonds' aptitude and attitude.

"He's a tough young man and he listens to what you have to say," Lopes said. "He's a smart young man. He knows when there is constructive information being passed to him. He just hasn't had a chance to play as much as he would like or as much as we would like because of the fluke injuries that have happened to him."

Hammonds stole his fifth base Tuesday and has not been thrown out. His production in that area will improve significantly, Lopes predicted.

"He has the physical tools and he has the mentality, too," Lopes said. "It's just a matter of being allowed to run. That will probably increase in the near future."

Provided baseball's future is near.

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