It's Not All Fun and Games : Lion Diamond Stars Learn the Minors Can Be Rough

Times Staff Writer

Billy Bean and Tim Layana, the two seniors who led the Loyola Marymount University baseball team to the college world series last month, are discovering that professional baseball isn't just fun and games.

Bean, who finished the season with 68 runs batted in, 84 runs and a .355 batting average en route to earning third team All-American honors, said the minor leagues lack the team atmosphere he knew at Loyola.

"In college, some guys could look to either myself or (Chris) Donnels or Layana to carry them," said Bean, the fourth-round pick of the Detroit Tigers. "Just as long as the team won. But here, there's more of an attitude just to watch out for yourself."

Layana, the Lions' ace pitcher who finished with a 17-3 record and was the third-round pick of the New York Yankees, echoed those sentiments.

'Survival of the Fittest'

"Here in the minors, everyone's looking out for himself," Layana said. "Everyone's trying to impress the management and get to the big leagues. It's the survival of the fittest."

Both Bean and Layana have already shown they're two of the fittest.

Bean, who began his professional career at the Double A level for the Glens Falls Tigers in the Eastern League, had to display his skills from almost Day 1 if he wanted to remain at that level.

"I thought I was going to play A ball in the Florida State League for sure," Bean said. "But while we were negotiating with the Tigers, I said to Alan (Meersand, his agent), 'Shoot, I can play AA.'

"Fortunately, I was picked by an organization that wasn't loaded with outfielders and so they said they'd throw me in and see what I could do."

Impressive First Game

In the proverbial sink or swim situation, Bean swam like an Olympic champion. In his first game, he singled and homered.

"My first time up, I was hit by a pitch in my leg and for some reason that took a lot of the pressure off," he said. "The next time up I hit a hard line drive up the middle for a single and then the home run really helped me.

"For me to come right into AA and start hitting like that really turned some heads."

Especially the heads of the Glens Falls management.

'Pleasant Surprise'

"He's been a very pleasant surprise," said Phil Kahn, the Glens Falls assistant general manager. "We've had a revolving door in right field this year, using five different players.

"Finally, it looks like we have someone who's going to stay there and produce for us."

Through 26 games, Bean had four doubles and two home runs, scored 15 runs and had 16 RBIs to go with a .277 batting average, which was second on the team.

Layana, a second-team All-American, began his professional career pitching in Oneonta, New York, a rookie team in the New York Penn League. But after just three starts, he was promoted to Fort Lauderdale, a Class A team in the Florida State League.

In those three games, the right-hander was 2-0 with a 2.20 earned-run average in 20 innings as he struck out 24 and walked five batters.

Good Four Innings

Although Layana lost his first outing in A ball, he said he threw well for four innings. Then, he threw a change-up that certainly altered a close game.

"It was up a little and the batter teed off on it. I thought it was just a fly out to left at first, but then it cleared the wall. But the coaches said I was doing a good job, so that one home run isn't going to get me down."

Indeed, both players said the other big adjustment they had to make was to not let one performance, good or bad, affect them too much. After all, in the minor leagues, there's almost always a tomorrow.

Unlike college baseball, where the season is about 50 games (LMU had 65 last year including post-season play), the minor league season is generally 140 games, running from mid-April through the end of August.

Mental Toughness Stressed

Layana said his coaches, former Yankee greats Bucky Dent, the manager, and Hoyt Wilhelm, the pitching coach, haven't even mentioned the mechanics of pitching to him. Instead, they have stressed developing the mental toughness to play every day.

"You have to take it one day at a time," Bean said. "You just can't get too high or too low."

"In college, a team has one, maybe two, tough pitchers and the rest are pretty hitable. But here the pitching is better so you have to gear yourself to be mentally tough every game."

Of course, getting used to a daily routine of sleeping until about 10 a.m., watching a couple hours of television, eating lunch and then going to the ballpark is an adjustment neither Bean nor Layana has minded.

"There's nothing like getting paid to do something you like doing," Layana said. "You just can't ask for more than that."

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