MEMBER OF U. S. BASEBALL TEAM : Todd Crosby Takes On the Globe With His Glove

Times Staff Writer

Todd Crosby has seen the world since leaving Woodland Hills two years ago, and the world has seen him.

The world likes what it sees.

Crosby, the starting second baseman at the University of Hawaii, is currently playing for the United States national baseball team--which was known last summer as the U.S. Olympic team.

He has started 28 of the 29 games the team has played over the past six weeks in Japan, Korea and the U.S. on its way to the Intercontinental Cup, which starts today in Edmonton, Canada.

The United States plays its first game Friday night against Taiwan, which upset Cuba, 7-2, Monday night to win the U.S. Open Amateur Tournament at Palm Springs.

"Todd's been playing outstanding baseball for us after he got off to a slow start, along with the rest of the team," said U.S. Coach Duane Banks, who also is coach at the University of Iowa. "He's a real good prospect. I think he's going to be a high draft choice next spring."

Crosby wasn't always regarded so highly. Despite being named All-City at El Camino Real High, he was rated no better than a low-round draft choice by most teams. Scouts who had seen Crosby expressed surprise when the San Diego Padres drafted him in the fourth round.

USC, Cal State Fullerton and other top baseball schools didn't call. In fact, Hawaii was the only school to offer Crosby a scholarship.

"I also talked to Nevada Reno but not that many other schools were interested in me," Crosby said by phone from College Park, Md., where the U.S. team played a five-game series last week.

"I came fairly close to signing (with San Diego). I remember being notified that I had been drafted and my heart bounced up into my throat. When you're 17 or 18 and a ballplayer, that's just about the biggest thing that can happen to you.

"I want to play pro baseball, but I felt Hawaii was the best opportunity for me at that point. It was the only real college opportunity I felt I had. I don't regret a single thing."

Coach Les Murakami and his staff at Hawaii made a move which has enhanced Crosby's value.

Before his first game with the Rainbow Warriors, Crosby was sent into the batting cage in an attempt to make the right-hander a switch-hitter.

"We did it for two reasons," Murakami said. "He isn't the strongest guy, but he has good speed and great coordination. We told him not to give up if he didn't hit well left-handed right away, but he had no problem. We looked at him the first day and thought he had a better swing left-handed.

"You don't see too many freshmen who can start on the major-college level right away. We've had only a few, but Todd did it while making the adjustment to switch-hitting.

"The only thing we were concerned about his first year was his strength over a long season. So we put him on a weight program and he showed real durability last season, playing all 87 games for us."

Crosby had two hits from the left side of the plate in his first game and went on to bat .287. He was named second team Freshman All-American. Last season, he improved to .331 with a school-record 78 walks, 90 runs, 102 hits, 16 doubles, 4 home runs, 64 runs batted in and only 30 strikeouts. His 272 assists set another school record.

He earned All-Western Athletic Conference honors and praise from some of the scouts who saw him.

"I thought he was the best second baseman in college baseball this season," said Ray Poitevant, director of scouting and player procurement for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Poitevant reconsidered a moment: "Well, just say he's as good as (All-American) Billy Bates of Texas, who we drafted in the fourth round. Bates has an edge on Crosby in speed, experience and power, but I think if both were available, it would be a tossup.

"I saw Crosby in high school and he's improved tremendously. However, there are still things he can improve on. I think he is going to be a fine player, but I want to be honest with him. He has average to above-average speed and average hands--that's on a major league scale--but has quick feet and is a gifted infielder.

"I think he'll be picked in the first five rounds of the draft. You don't see many second basemen go in the first round."

Crosby's impressive sophomore credentials and the fact that he wasn't eligible for the draft--college underclassmen cannot be selected--earned him a berth on the U.S. national team.

The U.S. team lost the 14th annual Friendship Series to the Japanese College All-Stars, four games to three, and found itself trailing the Koreans in a similar series, three games to one.

"We knew we would suffer some at the beginning because of immaturity," Banks said. "But the kids have grown up a lot in the last six weeks. If we played the Japanese again, they'd have trouble staying with us.

"We've got some good prospects, most of whom are going to get a chance to play pro ball. But it took us at least the first dozen games to become a team. All these guys were all-stars and were trying to show what they could do. Some were trying to do too much.

"But that's in the past. We're playing well and just trying to get ready for Canada."

Korea was swept up in the transformation of the U.S. team from green to mean, as the Americans took the final three games and the series. The surge has grown into a 14-game winning streak, giving the U.S. team a 21-8 record.

Crosby, a measly 4 for 26 in Japan, brought the U.S. even in Game 6 in Korea. He led off the game with a homer and hit another ball out of the park in the 11th inning to give the Americans a 2-1 victory. He batted .318 and was named Most Valuable Player in the series.

"That's not a characteristic of mine," the 5-10, 165-pound Crosby said of the power outburst. "I'm not big and strong enough to think about hitting home runs, but I'm glad it happened because it got us into that final game.

"After we lost in Japan and were down, 3-1, we couldn't figure out what was going wrong. We knew we had the talent, but we couldn't put a finger on the problem. We just knew we couldn't come out of (Asia) 0 and 2.

"Then everything came together. It was like turning on a light switch, or like a brush fire. Once it started, it spread quickly, and it's still going."

When the team landed in Los Angeles on the return trip from Korea, Crosby had time during a 10-hour layover for a quick ride home to Woodland Hills for some home cooking. Later in the day, the team was off again for the East Coast and a game the following day.

Crosby, who has played 116 games this year, played about as many games last summer--but without the travel. He played in Alaska. The pace this year, like the weather, has been blistering.

"I have to say I'm a little fatigued," said Crosby, whose average climbed to .264 with three hits Sunday in a 17-8 victory over Johnny's of Baltimore, rated as one of the top amateur teams on the East Coast. "I can feel my bat dragging a bit. I wish there was a way to get in a good workout, but I've had to do with push-ups and sit-ups. I'm still not hitting the way I did in Hawaii. I'm not a big person and strength is important.

"We've been on the move and it's been hot and humid just about everywhere. But that's what it's like in pro ball, so this has been good for me. Traveling doesn't get to me. My family used to drive all over the midwest, 10-hour drives, on vacation.

"And playing in Hawaii we have to fly everywhere. But this is the first experience I've had with long bus rides."

He knows that's what comes next, now that he's seen the world. Sign a contract and see the USA--by Greyhound bus.

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