Don Buford Jr. is on the run.
The fleet-footed second baseman leads the Carolina League with 55 stolen bases in 61 attempts for the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns, the Baltimore Orioles’ affiliate in the Class-A Carolina League.
And Buford, who played at Harvard High, Stanford and USC, won’t be slowing down once the season ends in August. Immediately following the final out, he will return to Los Angeles and begin medical school at UCLA.
“Everyone has been real supportive, especially UCLA,” said Buford, who will be starting classes late and finishing early because of spring training. “I’ve worked at a sports medicine and orthopedics clinic in the Valley ever since I was a senior in high school. It just seems natural to continue.”
Buford, whose father, Don, enjoyed a successful major-league career and is now a coach for the Orioles, batted .298 and had 35 steals in 71 games as a rookie last year with Newark., N.J., of the New York-Penn League.
This season, Buford is batting just .226 with one home run and 37 runs batted in, although he set a club record by getting a hit in 17 consecutive games.
Despite a less-than-sparkling .301 on-base percentage, Buford is making the most of his chances. Hagerstown Manager Mike Hart was also at Newark last season and has given Buford the green light to run in nearly all situations.
Buford is hoping to improve his hitting and help Hagerstown win the league’s Northern Division before returning to Sherman Oaks and UCLA to hit the medical texts.
“If I can end up at .250 by the end of August,” Buford said, “I feel I will have had a good year.”
New coach: George Wing, baseball coach at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento for the past 1 1/2 years, Saturday was named head coach at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Wing, 34, succeeds Andy Lopez, who coached at Dominguez Hills for six seasons and led the Toros to two California Collegiate Athletic Assn. championships and one appearance in the Division II College World Series. Lopez became coach at Pepperdine in June after Dave Gorrie retired.
“I know that Andy made a real impact and I think we can do it again,” said Wing. “It’s been said that the CCAA is the best Division II conference in the country and I believe it.
“This is a real great opportunity for me. Both my family and my wife’s family are down in Southern California. This is a nice way to come home.”
Wing, who was an assistant at UC Riverside in 1983-1984, compiled a record of 87-64 at the junior college level. He coached at Napa Valley College for 2 1/2 seasons before taking the job at Cosumnes River midway through the 1987 season. Last season, Cosumnes was the Bay Valley Conference co-champion and finished 30-17.
Breaking out: Todd Zeile has recovered from the broken bone in his hand that caused him to start slowly this season, but he is still reeling from the damage his Volkswagen Scirocco sustained during a theft last week.
Zeile, the former Hart High catcher who was drafted out of UCLA in 1986, is batting .266 with 14 home runs and 51 RBIs for the Arkansas Travelers, the St. Louis Cardinals’ affiliate in the double-A Texas League.
“I was sleeping in my apartment and I got up the next morning to go to a little autograph signing thing and my window was shattered all over my front seat,” Zeile said. “They stole my stereo, alarm and radar detector.”
It didn’t take a detective to track down the reason for Zeile’s .180 average after his first 100 at-bats this season. Last winter in the Dominican Republic--after a season in which he was named co-most valuable player of the Midwest League for batting .290 with 25 home runs and 106 RBIs--Zeile sustained a broken bone and had three pins inserted to speed the healing process. He missed most of spring training and began the season in cold weather in Little Rock, Ark.
“But as the weather warmed up,” Zeile said, “so did my hand.”
Zeile played in the Texas League All-Star Game and was 2 for 3 with a double.
Next season, he is ticketed for triple-A Louisville, but he will not play winter ball this off-season. Instead, he will wed former Olympic gymnast Julianne McNamara of Encino.
Perfect stranger: Mike Magnante knew exactly one person, his catcher, when he strode to the mound for his first start earlier this month after the Kansas City Royals promoted the left-handed pitcher from Eugene, Ore., of the Northwest League to Appleton, Wis., of the Midwest League.
“I got here the night the team got back from a road trip,” said Magnante, who played at Burroughs High and was drafted in June out of UCLA. “By the time I got to the park the next day to pitch, they were on the field and when I went out to warm up for the game they all went back into the clubhouse. After the game, I was able to meet everyone. Now things are going good.”
Magnante is 3-0 with a 2.10 earned-run average for Appleton and has 26 strikeouts in 30 innings. At Eugene, he was 1-1 with a 0.56 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 16 innings.
“He can put the ball where he likes and he has a deceptive delivery,” Appleton Manager Brian Poldberg said. “He’s just a smart pitcher.”
Magnante’s emergence as a strikeout artist, however, has been surprising.
“I’ve never had the real hard fastball and it’s taken me time to learn that I can get away with coming inside,” Magnante said. “The speed is not the most important thing. Even with my fastball topping out at 84 or 85 I can still pitch inside and be effective.”
Long and winding road: It isn’t exactly the classic way to get to the major leagues, but former Cal State Northridge left-handers John LaRosa and Steve Sharts are both having excellent seasons as long relievers in the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization.
LaRosa, who went to Cleveland High and signed out of Northridge in 1987, is 2-1 with 3 saves and a 1.32 ERA in 54 innings for Spartanburg, S.C., the Phillies’ Class-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League.
“I’m not pitching as much as I’d like to, but I think I’m getting the job done when I’m in there,” LaRosa said. “I feel that Philadelphia knows I’m doing well and that I can move up through the ranks as a reliever.”
Sharts, who went to Simi Valley High and was drafted out of Northridge in 1985, is 2-0 with one save and a 2.36 ERA in 47 innings at Reading, Pa., the Phillies’ double-A affiliate.
“Right now, I’m the only left-hander in the bullpen, so it’s not so much long relief anymore,” said Sharts, who pitched a scoreless inning for the Southern Division in the Eastern League All-Star Game. “I’ve really only had one bad outing where I gave up four earned runs in two innings.
“I enjoy being a reliever. I don’t care how I’m used. As long as I keep pitching well I have a chance to keep moving.”