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Hot Bat, Soft Hands and a Future : That’s How Yankees See Ex-Loyola Infielder Bobby DeJardin

There’s a big tractor-trailer squatting inside the gate at Damaschke Field, the ballpark of the Class A Oneonta Yankees. The trailer is called the Sports Mobile because the Yankees use it as an auxiliary locker room.

Bobby DeJardin has annexed a part of the Sports Mobile and sleeps there.

DeJardin--the former Mater Dei High School and Loyola Marymount star--is spending his summer playing minor league baseball in Oneonta, a college town in upstate New York. And DeJardin’s living arrangements were just fine until this month when he and his roommate were rousted from their apartment by students swarming back from summer break to the State University College of New York at Oneonta.

With a month left in the New York-Penn League season, DeJardin had to find somewhere else to hang his hat.

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The local Yankees booster club located homes for some of the vagrant ballplayers who had been made homeless by the influx of students. DeJardin wasn’t among the lucky few.

He could have lived with three other Yanks in a single room at Oneonta’s Oasis Motel, but DeJardin reckoned that the Sports Mobile--which also houses facilities for trainer Tim Weston--was more to his liking.

“We just threw a couple of mattresses on the floor,” DeJardin said.

Instantly, it was home sweet home. But DeJardin has found 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, especially when the leaves on trees lining Oneonta’s streets start to turn brown.

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“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.”

Of course, if DeJardin ever got really cold at night in his Spartan digs, he could always take his bat to bed. DeJardin’s Louisville Slugger has been red-hot all summer. After 65 games, the switch-hitting DeJardin, 21, is hitting .304 and has 15 stolen bases.

His situation could be worse. The Sports Mobile has a shower, and it’s just a short stroll for DeJardin from his campsite to the shortstop’s spot.

DeJardin, who was named all-CIF and all-Orange County shortstop in 1985 after a stellar senior year at Mater Dei, played second base during his first two years at Loyola.

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This 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 Cops outfits. But the two ended up having to swap positions before the season. The chronically sore-armed Fraticelli ended the season at second, while DeJardin impressed professional scouts with his steady glove and strong arm at shortstop.

DeJardin was selected in the eighth round of the June draft and was signed by then-Yankee scout Chris Smith. Smith took over as head baseball coach at Loyola a week after signing DeJardin.

Looking back, Smith would probably like to have DeJardin back for his senior year.

“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 soft hands. His defensive tools are going to get him into the big leagues.”

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The Yankees organization would love to see that. They’ve been aching for a major league shortstop since Willie Randolph arrived at second base in 1976. Randolph has hooked up on the double-play pivot with 30 shortstops, including recent forgettables Lenn Sakata, Paul Zuvella and Orestes Destrade.

“The Yankees have never been very deep at that position,” DeJardin said. “That’s why they’re always looking for shortstops.”

Dave Snow, who took over the baseball job at Long Beach State this summer, played DeJardin at second and short during three of his four years as Loyola’s head coach. DeJardin batted .288 his freshman year when Snow took the Lions 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. The Yankees will have him playing short at each level unless he shows that he doesn’t have big league potential at the position.”

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Former Red Sox catcher Gary Allenson was known as “Hardrock” during his playing days, but as Oneonta’s manager, the Lawndale native 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 a barrage of split-fingered fastballs.

“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 a contact hitter. He uses the whole field, so he’s valuable at the top of the lineup.”

The Yankees are so impressed with DeJardin that he’s one of only four Oneonta players who have been invited to the big club’s September mini-camp in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. DeJardin, a natural right-handed hitter, is even more valuable to the Yankees after taking up switch-hitting as a junior at Loyola.

DeJardin has been so successful at putting the ball in play from the left side that he hit his only home run in pro ball swinging lefty against Hamilton, Ont. DeJardin yanked his home run over the right-center field fence and trotted back to a stoic bench.

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“My teammates were giving me the silent treatment as a joke, because I’m not supposed to be hitting home runs,” DeJardin said. “But they started laughing and congratulating me a couple of minutes later.”

DeJardin experimented with switch-hitting under Smith’s guidance in the amateur Jayhawk League in Nevada, Mo., in the summer after his freshman year. Regardless of how good DeJardin gets at switch-hitting, he’ll probably never hit a ball out of Oneonta’s spacious Damaschke Field. Only three home runs have been hit there all season.

At least the infield at Oneonta is fairly nice. DeJardin, who was spoiled by putting-green infields in college--like the ones at Loyola, Arizona State and the University of Hawaii--was shocked at first at how bad some of the fields in the New York-Penn League are.

“At Utica I found six big chunks of glass in the dirt around shortstop,” DeJardin said.

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The travel can be tiresome. Most of the New York-Penn League’s ballparks are pretty well spread out, from Watertown in western New York to Erie, Pa., and to St. Catherine and Hamilton in Ontario--and all of the travel is by bus.

“On those seven-hour 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 finished. He told me he hadn’t broken a sweat since he got home.”

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