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Baseball / Gary Klein : Gieseke Finds His Bearings at the Plate

Mark Gieseke’s professional baseball career began only a few weeks ago, but life on the road already seems to be taking a toll on the former Westlake High standout now playing for the Waterloo (Iowa) Diamonds, the San Diego Padres’ Class-A affiliate in the Midwest League.

A recent message left for a reporter said: “Mark Gieseke returned your call. He said he has no idea where he is at.”

Reached Friday at a hotel in Davenport, Iowa, Gieseke still wasn’t sure of his whereabouts.

“Where are we?,”’ Gieseke asked his roommate, who informed Gieseke they were in Davenport to play a series against the Quad City Angels. “Sorry, I’ve been on the move.”

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And moving up.

Gieseke, a first baseman, was selected by the Padres in the 24th round of the draft after batting .372 with nine home runs and 45 runs batted in for Cal State Sacramento. He reported to Spokane, Wash., in the Northwest Rookie League and went five for 12 in a season-opening, three-game series in Boise, Idaho, before getting promoted to Waterloo earlier this week.

“I liked Spokane,” Gieseke said. “but I’m not gonna complain about getting moved up.”

Moving through the air, however, is another story.

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Gieseke caught a plane to somewhere (“I don’t know where. It seemed like we stopped a hundred times.”) before catching up with his new team in Springfield, Ill.

“The last part of the trip was on a two-prop plane that was like the Knuckleball Express,” Gieseke said. “It was OK, if you don’t mind having your feet come out from under you. I guess that’s why they call it the minor leagues.”

Slip pitch: Rodney Beck couldn’t get a grip.

The humidity at Fair Grounds Field in Shreveport, La., gave the former Grant High pitcher clammy hands.

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“I couldn’t keep my hands dry with a ton of rosin,” said Beck, who was making his debut with the Shreveport Captains, the San Francisco Giants’ affiliate in the double-A Texas League. “It took me a couple of innings to get rolling.”

Beck, 20, gave up a first-inning run then strangled the Jackson Mets, pitching a complete-game, 4-1 victory. He retired 18 of the last 19 batters and allowed only one runner to reach third base after the first.

Beck, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound right-hander, originally was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 1986 but was traded to the Giants during spring training in 1988.

“I was a drop-and-drive pitcher and they (Oakland) wanted me to keep my back leg straight up,” Beck said. “It brought a little better fastball but control was a problem and I started feeling pain in my shoulder. The Giants just said, ‘Go ahead and pitch.’ ”

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This season, he was 11-2 at San Jose in the Class-A California League before he was promoted last Friday.

“Before, I’d throw guys curveball, curveball, fastball,” said Beck, who led Grant to the City Section 4-A Division title his senior season. “Now, I can set it up the other way. Now I have control and have them guessing.”

The waiting game: Paul Blair said he could not let himself get too low despite losing his position as starting shortstop for Shreveport.

Blair, 25, played himself out of the lineup by committing 18 errors in 50 games and batting just .218.

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“I’m not really worried about it, I’m just going to sit back, do the work and wait for the opportunity,” Blair said. “Right now, all I can do is wait.”

On Friday, opportunity may have knocked for the former Birmingham High player. Blair was promoted to triple-A Phoenix to fill a roster void caused by injury.

Utility pitcher: It is not exactly the ideal role, but as long as Steve Connolly has a uniform he figures he has a chance to pitch in the major leagues.

Connolly, who played at Crespi High and UC Santa Barbara, is a middle reliever at Shreveport.

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“Most people think about starters and stoppers,” said Connolly, whose pitches have been clocked in the low 80s. “Nobody wants to be groomed as a middle reliever.

“But I don’t want to go around moping. You make the most of what you get. As long as I get some innings I’ll be happy.”

Connolly, 25, has pitched 21 2/3 innings and is 0-1 with a 2.91 earned-run average.

Starting up: It came down to starting--as a point of origin and a role on a pitching staff.

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Left-hander Tim Nedin spent most of last season as a middle reliever for Florida State. So when the Minnesota Twins selected him in the 21st round of the draft and offered him a chance to be part of the rotation at Elizabethton, Tenn., in the Appalachian Rookie League, Nedin jumped at it.

“The money offer was pretty good, but it was the opportunity to get started playing professionally,” said Nedin, who played at Hart High and College of the Canyons. “I just think it was time.”

Last season, Nedin was 6-5 with a 3.22 ERA for Florida State, which participated in the College World Series.

Back in the swing: Scott Sharts, in Kansas for the summer playing for the semipro Wichita Broncos, didn’t take long to make his mark.

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On the first swing of his first at-bat, Sharts blasted a home run.

Sharts, who set the Southern Section career record for home runs when he hit 32 in three seasons at Simi Valley High, figured he had one coming. In limited playing time as a freshman at Miami this season, he did not have a home run. In fact, he did not even have a plate appearance after April 7.

“I’ve been waiting to do that for so long,” Sharts said. “It felt great.”

Sharts, who asked to be released from his scholarship when Miami’s season ended, has not decided where he will play next year. He said he is considering Cal State Northridge, Loyola Marymount and UCLA, among other schools.

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Staff writer Tim Brown contributed to this notebook.


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