Jump stop puts Minor's focus on majors

NBA lockout dashes Red Wing's hoop dream

May 10, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

No matter what kind of major-league career Ryan Minor has ahead of him, he will be forever etched in baseball history.

That was assured last Sept. 20 when the rookie became the man who started at third base for the Orioles on the night that Cal Ripken ended his Iron Man streak at 2,632 games.

"The biggest thing is I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time," Minor said. "I just happened to be there on what was a very special night. I'll always remember that."

Now, one of the Orioles' prized prospects is back at Rochester where he leads the team in home runs and RBIs and is showing his athleticism on defense as he strives to take the final step toward a permanent stay in the big leagues.

"All I'm trying to do is be consistent and put myself in a position to go up and prove myself," said the organization's 1997 minor-league Player of the Year. "It's only the start of my third season, so to be in Triple-A this quick makes me feel fortunate."

The former University of Oklahoma basketball star has dismissed all NBA aspirations after a conflict tugged at him during his first year or two as an Orioles farmhand. No more three-point heaves and rebounds; he is totally committed to baseball.

"In the off-season, I kind of tossed the idea around," Minor said. "But the [NBA] lockout kicked that one. So, basketball is out the window. No more thoughts."

That, of course, is welcome news to the Orioles, who want Minor to concentrate heavily on baseball, where he is still a relative newcomer.

"Winter ball [Arizona Fall League] just got me a little more experienced and it was good because a lot of guys in that league had pitched in the majors," he said. "You seemed to face nothing but the starter and closers. It was excellent competition."

Minor said he is not worrying about a timetable for reaching the top because he cannot control the situation. He had a much bigger concern recently when the devastating tornadoes swept through his native Oklahoma near where his family lives. But they were safe and sound.

"I'm doing all right," said Minor, 25. "It was cold up here for a while, but it's warming up. Once I get rid of a cold I'll be all right."

Triple-A Rochester

With Gabe Molina and Calvin Pickering in Baltimore, Rochester was scuffling more in the bullpen and at the plate. New closer Rafael Pena blew two saves and had a 6.14 ERA in his first season in America in six years. And, the Red Wings did not boast a .300 hitter and were 1-7 in one-run games. They were 11th in the International League in batting and home runs, but first in pitching. Terry Burrows remained the staff's hard-luck pitcher. Despite outstanding numbers (1.62 ERA, 43 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 44 1/3 innings and a .158 opposing batting average), he had a 1-3 record. Out of character, second baseman Jesse Garcia committed two errors in his first game back. The change moved Jerry Hairston back to shortstop for the third time this year. Catchers Jim Foster and Tommy Davis were a combined 5-for-32 throwing out potential base stealers.

Double-A Bowie

The hottest hitter for Bowie was Wady Almonte, who homered in his first two games after returning from a four-game absence because of a beaning. Over a 13-game span sandwiching a concussion, Almonte batted .367 with 12 runs scored and 14 RBIs. The Baysox were unbeaten in the 12 games they scored first, enabling them to continue a battle with Akron for the lead in the Eastern League's Southern Division. Catcher Tim DeCinces topped the league in on-base percentage (.494) and ranked among the batting leaders. He had started every game since April 14 when Chip Alley suffered an ankle injury. Shortstop Augie Ojeda was 13-for-30 as a left-handed batter to raise his overall average from that side to .350. He was hitting .091 right-handed. Tom Hage was 9-for-10 at driving in runs from third base with less than two out. Former Orioles farmhand Cesar Devarez is working out with the Baysox. Starters Javier De La Hoya and Josh Towers incurred their first losses. Towers' latest walkless streak stands at 24 2/3 innings. De La Hoya had won seven straight for Bowie over two years. Towers has the only complete-game shutout in the league. He threw 79 pitches. The Baysox entertained fan No. 2 million during the weekend. Prince George's Stadium opened June 16, 1994.

Single-A Frederick

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