Minor League Notebook / Donna Carter : Paquette Keeps His Eyes on the Baseball Now

Craig Paquette has had a full-length basketball court in the backyard of his family's Garden Grove home since he was in seventh grade.

There he honed the shooting touch he used to average 22 points a game as a senior at Rancho Alamitos High School in 1987.

But Paquette, 20, avoids the courts now.

"I'm trying to stop," Paquette said. "Last time I played, some guy twisted his ankle. . . . I've got to stick to baseball."

Paquette plays third base for the Southern Oregon Athletics, the Oakland Athletics' Class-A team in Medford, Ore.

Although he enjoyed high school basketball and had opportunities to play at community colleges, Paquette knew his desire was to be a professional athlete. And his best chance, he felt sure, was in baseball.

The Minnesota Twins drafted him in the 36th round out of high school, but Paquette turned down the Twins' offer.

"I wasn't physically or mentally ready," he said. "I hadn't lifted weights. I didn't think I was strong enough.

"Coming out of high school, (facing) a 6-5 guy on the mound throwing 90 (miles per hour), I thought I would be a little scared up there. I got a bit intimidated by the hard throwers."

That was more than two years ago. After playing at Golden West College, Paquette was drafted by the A's this year.

And these days, it's the 6-foot, 185-pound Paquette who is doing the intimidating in his first season of professional baseball.

Last week, he was in a brief two-for-15 slump that caused his batting average to drop from about .380 to .330.

"I'm not hitting the ball really well," he said Tuesday. "Right now, I think it is a mental thing. I'm trying to work too hard or thinking about every at-bat instead of just going out there and trying to hit the ball. I'm jumping at the pitch. I have to lay back, keep my weight back. I'm in a small slump right now, but I'll get out of it."

He did.

He hit two home runs Wednesday night in a 9-0 victory over the Everett (Wash.) Giants, and added a grand slam Saturday night in an 11-5 victory over the Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds.

His .363 batting average leads the club, which leads the Northwest League's Southern Division, and he is second in hitting in the league. He has a team-leading 57 hits in 157 at-bats, and also leads the team in doubles with 14. He has hit seven home runs, and is second on the team in RBIs with 31.

Paquette also had the team's longest hitting streak earlier this year at 11 games.

"He has been swinging the bat well," Manager Grady Fuson said. "When he tells you he went into a slump it's because he was hitting .380 and went down to about .330.

"He has a chance to be a really good player. He has some great tools and a good personality. He is not a high-and-low guy. He has an even temperament. He doesn't get down on himself when he has a bad game."

Paquette is finding the Class-A life style more comfortable than he expected.

He had heard the minor league horror stories of players living six to an apartment, sleeping on the floor and pinching pennies.

With the A's, he is part of a program designed to give young players family support even though they are far from home.

Paquette and a teammate live with a family, and have their own rooms in a single-story, three-bedroom home with a pool, a "nice-sized" living room and family room--"and a satellite dish," Paquette said.

"I prepared myself in my mind for the worst, and hoped it would be better than I thought and it was," Paquette said. "A lot better. I'm pretty lucky to be living with a family right now."

The family supplies the food, although Paquette says he cooks himself. And he doesn't have to save his quarters for laundry.

Jim and Darla Arnsberg charge him $50 a month.

"Their son (Brad Arnsberg) is playing triple-A ball for the Texas Rangers, so they are really baseball-oriented," Paquette said. "They know what it is like, and they just want to be supportive."

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