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Baseball / Tim Brown : Toronto Farmhand Wapnick Rapidly Progressing to Dizzying Heights

Considering his reaction thus far to son Steve’s rapid ascent through the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization, perhaps it is best that Abe Wapnick stay away from the phone when major league rosters are increased to 40. Should Steve get the call, a giddy Abe just might teeter right over the edge.

Steve Wapnick, the former Monroe High and Moorpark College standout, was promoted Monday to Syracuse, the Blue Jays’ triple-A affiliate. This just two weeks after making the move from Class-A to Knoxville, one of Toronto’s double-A farm teams.

“I’m telling ya,” Abe Wapnick yipped, “I can’t stand much more of it. It’s fantastic.”

Steve reacted in kind.

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“It’s kind of like I’m in a daze still,” he said last week from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the Chiefs began a weekend series. “I was just getting used to Knoxville. I expected double-A, but triple-A I wasn’t expecting at all.”

Wapnick earned the promotion by giving up only one earned run in 19 innings while at Knoxville.

“I was throwing strikes, getting ahead of people and staying aggressive,” he said.

Those are three things that endeared him to Knoxville Manager Barry Foote who, in turn, relayed the information to Syracuse Manager Bob Bailor, the one-time Dodger. Bailor has yet to devise a pitching schedule for the right-hander but knows he likes Wapnick’s style.

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“I heard nothing but good things about him,” Bailor said. “He goes after hitters, he’s real aggressive and that’s what you want out of a relief pitcher. Personally, I want to get him into a game as soon as possible to get that triple-A tension out. I don’t want to put him in a position to lose a game and mess up his confidence.”

Wapnick, indeed, would like to get his shot, but so far he is content just to hang out in the bullpen. Watching his first game in a Chiefs uniform, Wapnick cozied up to Ozzie Virgil and Sal Butera, two former major leaguers trying to work their way back to the show.

“I was sitting in the bullpen last night and they were talking about how to pitch Pedro Guerrero,” Wapnick said. “I thought, ‘God, I’m only one step away.’

“It seems like 90% of these guys I’m playing with on this team have been in the big leagues at some point in their career. I’m just keeping my mouth shut and learning. I feel like the greenest guy in the world out here.”

And what about the prospect of getting that call to fill out the big-league roster in September?

“It’s definitely on my mind, but I can’t dwell on it now,” Wapnick said. “Maybe this year I can’t expect it, because they’re in a pennant race and I’ve only been out of A-ball for a couple of months.”

Mostly mental: To look at Travis Kinyoun, the former Royal High catcher playing for a Detroit Tiger rookie team in Bristol, Va., nothing has changed. He still carries with him the familiar skills of a solid backstop and switch-hitter.

Kinyoun is batting .267 for Bristol and has three home runs, 26 runs batted in and a .467 on-base percentage. He also estimated that he has thrown out 65% of would-be base stealers.

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Kinyoun, however, insists that there is a difference. He is beginning to think like a pro player.

“I kind of struggled in high school, hitting-wise,” he said. “But I’m a different person right now. I can’t stop hitting the ball right now. My swing’s the same, but I’ve gotten more aggressive at the plate and I’m hitting the ball hard from the right and the left.”

Under the spring-training tutelage of former Yankee Chris Chambliss, Kinyoun developed the necessary mental approach to what some call the most difficult task in sport--hitting a baseball.

That Kinyoun is hitting anything at this point might come as a surprise to some. As a sophomore at Royal, Kinyoun, a newly converted catcher, played but did not bat--a designated-hitter was used. By his senior year he had turned it around enough to bat .391.

To Shea: Phil Lombardi had made the shuttle before, so the round-trip ticket wasn’t so disappointing this time. The former Kennedy catcher was purchased from Tidewater, the New York Mets’ triple-A affiliate in Virginia, on June 28, spent nearly a month with the Mets and was sent back. The major league assignment coincided with Met catcher Barry Lyons’ time nursing a broken toe.

“Going in, I knew it was more of a fill-in thing,” said Lombardi, who made several trips to the big leagues when he was in the Yankee organization. This, however, was his first since being traded to the Mets 1 1/2 years ago.

Lombardi had been primarily a first baseman at Tidewater when the call came for his services--as a catcher. Lombardi, the City Section Co-Player of the Year in 1981, didn’t mind in the least.

“It was great because (Mets Manager) Davey Johnson gave me a chance and showed confidence in me,” he said. “I caught every time a left-hander pitched.”

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With Lyons and Gary Carter back from injuries, Lombardi has returned to Tidewater, still a step away but not dejected.

“If I stick around long enough,” said Lombardi, 26, “I’ll be playing in the seniors league in Florida.”


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