There’s a big tractor-trailer rig inside the main gate at Damaschke Field, the home ballpark of the Class-A Oneonta Yankees in Upstate New York.
The trailer used to belong to Ithaca College, which towed it around as a portable locker room. It seems the Division III school used to play against some teams that didn’t have much in the way of facilities, so the Bombers took their locker room and showers along with them on the road.
These days, the Yankees call the trailer the Sports Mobile and use it as an auxiliary locker room and trainer’s room. Lately, it has become even more than that. It has become a home.
Bobby DeJardin, a former Mater Dei High School and Loyola Marymount infielder, is spending his summer playing baseball in Oneonta. And until early August, he shared a comfortable apartment in town with the team’s trainer, Tim Weston.
That ended when the students from the State University College of New York at Oneonta swarmed back from summer break, returned to their apartments and left DeJardin and his roommate with no place to live.
With about a month left in the New York-Penn League baseball season, DeJardin suddenly had to find somewhere to hang his hat. So DeJardin and Weston moved into the Sports Mobile.
The local Yankee booster club located temporary homes in town for some of the ballplayers (about half the team was uprooted, an annual occurrence), but DeJardin wasn’t among the lucky few.
He could have gone in with three teammates in a single room at the Oasis motel, but DeJardin figured the Sports Mobile was more to his liking.
“We just threw a couple of mattresses on the floor,” DeJardin said.
DeJardin has discovered that it’s a long way from a portable locker room in Upstate New York to the summer breezes of his home in Huntington Beach.
And they said long bus rides were supposed to be the toughest thing about Class-A baseball.
“It got a little chilly last night,” DeJardin said recently. “It’s been getting down into the high 40s at night. I’m bundling up in long johns and sweat shirts.”
DeJardin’s spartan accommodations apparently haven’t hurt his play on the field. After 60 games with Oneonta, DeJardin, 21, is hitting .294, has scored 42 runs and has 15 stolen bases in 20 attempts.
His situation could be worse. The Sports Mobile has a shower, and it’s just a short stroll for DeJardin from his makeshift home to his spot at shortstop.
DeJardin, who was an All-Southern Section shortstop in 1985 after his senior season at Mater Dei, played second base his first two years at Loyola.
Last spring, DeJardin and slick-fielding shortstop Carl Fraticelli were pictured on the cover of Loyola’s baseball media guide--turning a double play in Keystone Kops outfits. But the two ended up having to swap positions before the start of the season because of Fraticelli’s sore arm. Fraticelli ended the season at second base while DeJardin impressed scouts with his steady glove and strong arm at shortstop.
DeJardin was selected in the eighth round of the June amateur draft and was signed by then-Yankee scout Chris Smith, who took over as coach at Loyola a week after signing DeJardin.
“I signed what would have been my own shortstop,” Smith said. “But the Yankees are really impressed with Bobby. He’s a flashy fielder, he’s got a major league arm and he has really soft hands. His defensive tools are what are going to get him into the big leagues.”
The Yankee organization would love to see that. They’ve been aching for a consistent shortstop since Willie Randolph arrived at second base in 1976. Since then, Randolph has hooked up on the double-play pivot with 30 shortstops--including such recent forgettables as Lenn Sakata, Paul Zuvella and Orestes Destrade.
Dave Snow, who took over the coaching job at Cal State Long Beach this summer, used DeJardin at both middle-infield spots during three of his four years as Loyola’s coach. DeJardin batted .288 his freshman year at Loyola, when Snow took the Lions all the way to the College World Series, and was a career .324 hitter in college.
“Hopefully, Bobby will remain a shortstop in the pros,” Snow said. “Guys who field that position as well as he does are hard to find.”
Former Red Sox catcher Gary Allenson, was known as “Hardrock” during his playing days, but as Oneonta’s manager, he runs a no-pressure dugout. DeJardin is blossoming as a shortstop under Allenson’s relaxed guidance, and he credits Allenson with helping ease the transition from college to pro baseball--with everything from using wooden bats to facing split-fingered fastballs on a day-to-day basis.
“Bobby’s biggest edge right now is probably mental,” Smith said. “He’s a bright, mature player. He’s not an overpowering hitter, but he’ll find a way to get on base and set the table for the big guys. He’s like a Marty Barrett-type contact hitter--he uses the whole field, so he’s valuable up at the top of the lineup.”
So far, the Yankees are so impressed with DeJardin’s performance that he’s one of only four Oneonta players invited to the September minicamp at Fort Lauderdale. DeJardin, a natural right-handed hitter, is even more valuable to the Yankees because he became a switch-hitter as a junior at Loyola.
DeJardin first experimented with switch-hitting under Smith’s guidance in the amateur Jayhawk League at Nevada, Mo., the summer after his freshman year, and has made that adjustment quickly. In fact, his only home run this season was hit left-handed.
He has had to make plenty of adjustments in Class-A ball, too. DeJardin, who played on manicured fields at such colleges as Loyola, Arizona State, and the University of Hawaii, was shocked at the condition of some of the fields in the New York-Penn League.
“In one game, at Utica, (N.Y.), I found six big chunks of glass in the dirt around shortstop,” DeJardin said.
The travel can be tiresome. Most of the league’s ballparks are pretty well spread out--from Watertown in western New York, to Erie, Pa., and to St. Catherines and Hamilton in Ontario--and all of the travel is by bus.
“On those seven-hour road trips, we sometimes don’t get back until the sun comes up,” DeJardin said. “Sometimes, you’re too tired to notice driving past Niagara Falls.”
Another thing DeJardin has had to learn to deal with is playing in humidity. In the summer, Oneonta, which straddles the Susquehanna River in the Appalachian Mountains, can become a sweatbox.
“I was talking on the phone the other day to (former Loyola teammate) Travis Tarchione, who had been playing in the Cape Cod League,” DeJardin said. “He was back in California because the Cape Cod League is already finished. He told me he hadn’t broken a sweat since he got home.”