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Grunhard Is Trying His Best to Catch On : Angels: After a home run Tuesday, he makes three fine defensive plays in loss to Padres.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dan Grunhard may be the lowest-paid graduate of the Class of ’87 from Northwestern University’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Northwestern, which produces engineers and doctors by the score, is known for the strength of its academic programs and the failings of its football teams. While it occasionally turns out an NFL or NBA player, the Evanston, Ill., school is hardly an athletic factory.

“The baseball program was really starting to pick up when I chose to go there,” Grunhard said. “The football team? Well, I wouldn’t say too much about that.”

Grunhard, a 26-year-old outfielder who was invited to the Angels’ camp as a non-roster player, speaks well for the improvement of Northwestern’s baseball program. The former premed student made three fine catches in left field Wednesday and threw out the fleet-footed Bip Roberts in the third inning when Roberts tried to stretch a single into a double.

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Although he didn’t duplicate his home run of Tuesday, Grunhard again won praise from Manager Doug Rader after the Angels’ 10-7 loss to the San Diego Padres at Desert Sun Stadium.

“He was terrific,” Rader said. “That’s one thing about the kids--(Ruben) Amaro, Grunhard, (Reed) Peters. They’re very much a compliment to our developmental people and they should be inspirational to everyone.

“The way (Grunhard) plays defensively is very admirable, but the thing I like best is he never received a scholarship for anything. Everything he’s gotten in this organization he’s earned. Some players have silver spoons in their mouths. Dan Grunhard has been eating with his fingers. It’s great to see.”

Grunhard, who hit .286 and .304 the last two seasons at double-A Midland, Tex., did get a partial scholarship at Northwestern. Among his teammates at various times were John Trautwein of the Boston Red Sox, Grady Hall of the Chicago White Sox, Marty Clary of the Atlanta Braves, Joe Girardi of the Chicago Cubs and Mike Huff of the Dodgers.

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“I always wanted to play professional baseball since I was a little boy,” Grunhard said. “Going into college as a premed biology major, I always found that athletics was a great outlet during my college career to get away from the books. You have to set your schedule and budget your time very carefully. Especially at a school like Northwestern, where there’s such demands academically.”

The demands of playing the outfield were multiplied Wednesday by the unpredictable wind and bright sun. Grunhard, who took Chili Davis’ spot in left field after Davis developed tightness in his groin, had prepared well.

“Checking the conditions today, I knew that on anything hit into the air in left field, especially a pop-up, I had to make sure I came in, because the ball would tend to tail away,” said Grunhard, who fought the sun to make a diving catch on Roberts for the game’s first out and followed that with a running catch on Roberto Alomar. “I had to really adjust and keep track of how hard the wind was blowing and where the sun was at all times. You can’t afford to sit back on your heels when you’re out there on a day like this.”

After throwing Roberts out in the third inning, Grunhard capped his day with a fine sliding catch in the sixth. “Bip’s one of the fastest runners in the National League,” Grunhard said. “As soon as the ball was hit, knowing who was at the plate, I assumed he’d be trying to go to second, so I came up and threw to the second-base bag. That’s the only way to play it. If you hesitate, the play isn’t there.”

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Grunhard went hitless in three at-bats but he was content with earning plaudits for his defensive work, because getting attention is difficult enough in this lockout-shortened spring.

“That’s universal for most players invited to camp, but it’s mainly younger players who have less time to get noticed and do the things they’re capable of,” he said. “But I don’t feel there’s any type of pressure for me to do well. I just want to go out and play the way I can.”

Grunhard hasn’t set a timetable for making the major leagues, but he knows that his biology degree is good security if his baseball career doesn’t blossom.

“I always figure I can go back to . . . well, I won’t call it the real world,” Grunhard said. “When I stop having fun playing, that will be the day I hang up my glove and spikes. Right now, I’m having a lot of fun.”

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Bert Blyleven, who was the starter and loser Wednesday, was satisfied with his three innings’ work and said he could have stayed in the game if necessary. The 38-year-old right-hander allowed two runs and five hits, walked two and struck out two. He also gave up a wind-aided home run to Fred Lynn in the second inning.

“I felt very strong. I had a little trouble with location on my fastball away on left-handers, but that’s from being too strong and feeling too good,” Blyleven said. “I went down to the bullpen and threw afterwards, and everything was OK. It’s just a matter of getting some innings under my belt.”

Blyleven didn’t fare quite as well in his only at-bat. Wearing bright green wristbands, he missed with two exaggerated swings and then pointed his bat toward the center-field fence a la Babe Ruth in the 1932 World Series. He was out on the next pitch, fouling it off into the catcher’s mitt. Then Blyleven walked away from the plate feigning disappointment, throwing his helmet in the dirt.

Angel Notes

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The Angels’ scheduled season-opening series at Seattle, which was wiped out by the lockout, will be made up in three visits to the Kingdome--on May 3, May 10 and July 11. That leaves the team with a single day off between April 24 and May 30. . . . During that stretch, the Angels will visit Boston, New York, Baltimore and Seattle, come home for six games, return to Seattle, and then return home for three more against Boston. After a respite on May 14, they will play the next 16 days, beginning with a trip to Milwaukee, Toronto and Cleveland.

The three-game series at Oakland that was to have been played April 6-8, will be made up on Oct. 1-3. The times for those games have not been determined. Bert Blyleven, the Angels’ player representative, said the players were unhappy about having to play a game on July 11--the day after the All-Star game--because that’s traditionally an off-day. However, he said there apparently were no alternatives. “If it has to be, it has to be,” Blyleven said.

Devon White led off Wednesday’s exhibition with a first-pitch home run. . . . Donnie Hill, who sparked the Angels’ six-run rally in the ninth with a two-run homer, represented the potential tying run when he came up again but struck out to end the game. . . . Mike Smithson gave up five runs in two innings, including two home runs. Doug Rader said the 15- to 20- m.p.h. wind made it impossible to judge his pitchers’ effectiveness. “Wrigley Field was never like this,” he said.


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