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Minor League Notebook / Chris Foster : Ham Hoping to Be a Rising Star : So Far, Former Titan Has Been in Right Place at Right Time

It’s not that Mike Ham is complaining, but he would like to be a little more than a stopgap catcher.

Ham, who played at Cal State Fullerton in 1986 and 1987, has been moving up in the San Francisco Giants organization. But not for the usual reasons.

In the past eight months, Ham has been promoted twice. Nothing wrong with that, except in both cases he wasn’t even hitting his weight.

In 1988, Ham hit .165 and drove in 13 runs for Clinton, Iowa, a Class-A team. But at the end of the season, he was promoted to San Jose, which is at a higher level of Class A. Seems San Jose had only two catchers, one of which was also the team’s designated hitter. Ham was promoted for the playoffs in case of injury to one of the other catchers.

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This season, Ham started as a backup catcher at San Jose and still wasn’t hitting his weight (.150). One week into the season, however, he was promoted to Phoenix, the Giants’ triple-A team.

“To be real honest, we had an emergency situation,” said Dave Nahabedian, the Giants’ assistant director of minor league operations. “One of our Phoenix catchers was injured. We didn’t want to take time away from one of our regular catchers in the organization, so we moved Mike up.”

The Firebirds are not sure when Bill Bates, the reserve catcher who injured his arm, will return. Until that time, though, the 200-pound Ham is making the most of the opportunity.

And this time he’s hitting his weight. As the backup for Will Tejada, Ham is hitting .240 with three runs batted in.

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In his first start for the Firebirds, Ham had two hits, including the game-winning single against Tucson. And, last week, he had a two-run triple that put Phoenix ahead to stay against Las Vegas.

“We knew Mike was a great defensive catcher, but he’s holding his own as a hitter,” Nahabedian said. “That’s surprised us. But, there he is with two game-winning hits.”

Even at Fullerton, Ham was known primarily for his defense. As a senior in 1987, he hit .256 with five home runs and 33 runs batted in.

After being selected in the 24th round of the June amateur draft by the Giants, Ham was assigned to Everett, a rookie league team in Washington, where he hit .248 with a home run and 21 RBIs in 39 games.

“Mike has a very good arm and is very good at handling pitchers,” Nahabedian said. “It was just a question of how well he would hit.”

Ham said part of his problem at Clinton last season stemmed from a sore arm he developed at Fullerton. He said that not starting also hampered his hitting.

“It’s a tough situation not knowing if you’re going to play,” Ham said. “I had never had to deal with that before. I had always been a starter.”

Ham has had little trouble adjusting to triple-A pitching.

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“I’ve always felt that I was more than just a defensive catcher,” Ham said. “That was a bad rap. If I get my confidence going, I can prove it. I’m getting tired of filling in for people.”

However, Nahabedian said that when Bates returns, Ham will likely go back to San Jose.

Former UC Irvine star Tom Baine is having a less chaotic trip through the minor leagues.

Baine has moved steadily through the St. Louis Cardinals’ system since being drafted in the 30th round in 1986. Of course, the fact that he has hit above or around .300 on every level might have something to do with it.

In 1986, Baine hit .298 for Erie, Pa., the Cardinals’ rookie league team. The following year, he hit .306 for Springfield, Ill., a Class-A team. Last season, Baine hit .307 on the double-A level at Arkansas. This season, after a slow start, he’s hitting .325 for Louisville, the Cardinals’ triple-A team.

“I’m really kind of surprised that I’ve moved up so quickly,” Baine said. “The Cardinals have a reputation of moving players along slowly. Especially ones who were taken so late in the draft.”

Triple-A has been a snap for Baine . . . on the field, anyway. Off it, he has had to get used to this new form of travel called flying.

Baine rode buses and stayed in less-than-quality hotels during his first few years in professional baseball. This season, Baine has found the hotels to his liking. It’s getting to them that’s caused him some problems.

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“I’m not scared of flying or anything like that, it’s just takes a lot out of me,” Baine said. “Last season at Arkansas, we had a beautiful bus, with beds. I slept really well on that bus.”

Baine blames his slow start on the air travel. He started the season four for 25, before going on a hot streak.

“I’m getting used to flying now, I’m even able to sleep while I’m in the air,” Baine said. “I still miss that bus, but you don’t travel by bus in the major leagues. I’ll learn to like flying.”

Mike Schwabe, a graduate of Tustin High School, was recalled by the Detroit Tigers last week after an impressive showing at London, Ontario, the Tigers’ double-A team.

In eight games with London, Schwabe was 3-0 with a 1.07 earned-run average. He also had two saves in eight appearances, two of which were starts.

Schwabe, who pitched at Rancho Santiago College and Arizona State, pitched 2 2/3 shutout innings of relief Saturday against Kansas City. He struck out two and walked only one.

Attention Dave LaRoche: Former Angel relief pitchers seem to be surfacing all over the minor leagues.

Two weeks ago, DeWayne Buice, who saved 17 games for the Angels in 1987, was recalled by the Toronto Blue Jays after a strong showing at the team’s triple-A franchise in Syracuse.

And now comes the return of Donnie Moore, who last week won his first game since Aug. 7, 1988.

Moore, now a member of the Omaha Royals, pitched three hitless innings against the Richmond Braves Tuesday. He struck out three and didn’t walk a batter and picked up the victory after Matt Winters hit a three-run homer in the 10th inning.

Moore is 1-1 with a 1.42 ERA for Omaha this season.

When last seen in an Angel uniform, Moore was trying to make yet another comeback. He was 5-2 with a 4.91 ERA and four saves.

Moore, who saved a club record 31 games in 1985 and 21 in 1986, was released late last season by the Angels. He signed a minor league contract with the Royals during the winter.


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