The 1984 U. S. Olympic baseball team has been called the greatest collection of amateur talent ever. Mark McGwire, Will Clark, Cory Snyder, Barry Larkin, B. J. Surhoff and Oddibe McDowell were members of a team that won the silver medal in the demonstration sport at the L. A. Summer Games.
Sid Akins, a right-handed pitcher who played at Cleveland High and USC, was also on the Olympic team. Akins, a third-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 1984, is still striving for the success many of his former teammates have achieved.
Akins spent two seasons in the Rangers' organization but was released during spring training in 1986. He hooked on with the Atlanta Braves and finished the '86 season splitting time between rookie ball and Class A. Last season, he began the year at Durham in the Class-A Carolina League and finished it at Greenville in the double-A Southern League.
This season, Akins is at Richmond, the Braves' triple-A affiliate in the International League. He is 3-2 with a 4.32 earned-run average in 66 innings and is working to overcome the inconsistency that he says has stalled his progress.
"The biggest thing is the mental part of it," Akins said. "When you face guys you've heard of, sometimes you want to do a little more than you're capable of when you really don't need to.
"It's a relaxed aggression. At times I've had it and at times I haven't."
Akins is searching for the confidence he gained last winter when he pitched in Puerto Rico.
"It was good to face guys who have been in the big leagues," Akins said. "There were players like Candy Maldonado and Ruben Sierra. You make your pitch, you can get 'em out."
Now, Akins is trying to get out of the minor leagues and join his more established former teammates at the big-league level.
"There was no down side to my Olympic experience," Akins said. "It's good to be mentioned as a part of it. As far as those other players being in the big leagues and me not--that doesn't bother me because I'm trying to to the best I can."
Wetherby report: Jeff Wetherby spent last winter taking batting practice and working out in Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium with major league players Brett Butler, Scott Fletcher, Rick Mahler and Steve Bedrosian.
"I was like an outcast," Wetherby said, "but I owned 'em in batting practice all winter."
Wetherby, however, is having an atypically down year at triple-A Richmond.
The former Kennedy High, College of the Canyons and USC outfielder is batting .250 with 3 home runs and 44 runs batted in.
"It's been a frustrating year," Wetherby said. "I lead this team in a lot of categories and I've been hitting the ball hard since spring training, but I've been hitting it at people, too. I guess I'm really not having that bad of a year. I'm just being a little hard on myself."
Wetherby has been hard on pitchers throughout his career. He batted .532 his senior year in high school, .536 at Canyons and .364 at USC. Last season, at double-A Greenville, he batted a career- low .299.
Wetherby said a turning point in his season came early--in the second game of the season--when he jammed the middle finger of his left hand while diving for a line drive. Wetherby continued to play and aggravated the injury so that it has been nagging him ever since.
"They say I'm an over-aggressive player," Wetherby said. "but that's the way I've always played so I can't help it."
As for a September call-up when the major league rosters are expanded, Wetherby said: "That's something a lot of guys talk about and hope for but it's kind of up in the air right now."
Ridenour's hour: Dana Ridenour grew up dreaming about becoming a major league pitcher, but the right-hander from Sylmar High and UCLA said he never really considered the possibility of it actually happening until July 20, the day the New York Yankees promoted him to Columbus, the club's triple-A affiliate in the International League.
Ridenour, 22, was 5-4 with a 3.92 earned-run average and 14 saves as the closer for Albany. Since his promotion to Columbus, he is 0-0 in three appearances with a 2.25 ERA, 6 walks and 4 strikeouts in 4 innings.
"I was doing well at Albany but the move up was still a surprise," said Ridenour, who was the Yankees' 16th-round draft pick in 1986. Ridenour attributes his ascent to the experience he gained pitching for UCLA in the powerful Pacific 10 Conference, which was stocked with future big leaguers.
"I'd thrown against a lot of great players," Ridenour said. "Guys like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Oddibe McDowell. That prepares you for being ahead of the game."
Kuld off: There are cold starts and then there are cold starts.
Pete Kuld found out just how chilly it can get in April when he spent 19 innings behind the plate for Waterloo, Wis., the Cleveland Indians' affiliate in the Class-A Midwest League, in a game against Beloit. Game-time temperature: 20 degrees.
"We had been colded-out in Kenosha and colded-out two games in Beloit," said Kuld, who played at Chatsworth High, College of the Canyons and Pepperdine. "With the wind, it seemed even colder the night we played.
"I caught all 19 innings. It was one of those days. Basically, nobody wanted to swing so every pitcher was Nolan Ryan and it was kind of like, 'Let's get this over with.' "
Kuld broke the index finger on his throwing hand at the end of May and spent a month on the disabled list. He is batting .231 with 8 home runs and 24 runs batted in and hopes to finish the year on a hot streak. He still isn't sure about his off-season plans.
"The only exciting news I've heard," Kuld said, "is that we've got Gretzky in L. A."
Tops in their field: Two former Valley-area players were named in Baseball America magazine's annual list of players with the best ability in each minor league.
Former Hart High and UCLA catcher Todd Zeile, who plays for the Arkansas Travelers in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, was named Best Defensive Catcher and Catcher With the Best Arm in the Double-A Texas League.
Don Buford Jr., who played at Harvard High, USC and is with the Orioles' club at Hagerstown, Md., was named Fastest Baserunner in the Class-A Carolina League.
Update: Olonzo Woodfin, who was selected by the Indians in the eighth round of the draft last June, has appeared in seven games for Burlington, the Indians Class-A affiliate in the Appalachian League.
Woodfin has started five games and is 1-1 with a 4.81 earned-run average. Woodfin has 19 strikeouts and 21 walks in 24 innings.
Season-ender: The San Fernando Valley Dodgers had their season ended when Ron Ortegon of the the Nogales (Ariz.) Vaqueros hit a grand slam with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning that gave his team a 10-7 win that eliminated the Dodgers from the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan.
"It was just one of those things," said Dodger General Manager Dave Desmond. "We got beat by a grand slam. What can you do? "
The Dodgers completed the season 34-11. Despite the team's seventh-place finish in 1986 and 11th-place finish last year, Desmond said this year's team was the best of the three.
"We finished higher our first year," he said, "but this was definitely our best club."