Titans' Farlow Made This Move to Stay in Place : College baseball: Shortstop leaves problems at USC behind him and finds greener pastures in Cal State Fullerton's infield.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What was a problem position for shortstop Kevin Farlow at USC has become a solve-all-problems position at Cal State Fullerton.

Perhaps the main reason Fullerton has advanced to the College World Series, which begins today at Omaha, is that the Titans have cut their error total almost in half, from 125 in 1989 to 66 in 1990.

Five infielders had 89 errors last season, 29 of them by then-shortstop Mate Borgogno. But when the smooth-fielding Farlow transferred from USC last summer, it allowed Borgogno to move back to his natural position, second base, where he has flourished.

Borgogno has made only nine errors in 295 chances for a .969 fielding percentage. Farlow has 14 errors in 282 chances for a .950 fielding percentage. The Titans have a team fielding percentage of .971, sixth best in the nation.

"He has solidified our infield and has developed into one of the premier shortstops in college baseball," Fullerton Coach Larry Cochell said of Farlow. "When he came here, I told him, 'You're my shortstop. I don't care what you hit, but you're my shortstop, so just relax and play.' "

Farlow, who is 6-feet-4 and 170 pounds, never heard those words at USC. A graduate of Granada Hills Kennedy High School who, as a sophomore, hit a last-inning home run in Dodger Stadium that beat Banning for the 1985 City 4-A championship, Farlow spent most of his freshman season at USC on the bench.

He started at shortstop in the fall of his sophomore year at USC but had a few bad scrimmages the following January and was on the bench again at the start of the 1989 season.

"I was in a situation where I had to perform day in and day out," Farlow said. "There was no grace period. I was constantly under a microscope. It was hard for me, because I was scared to make an error."

Midway through the season, second baseman Damon Buford was struggling, so USC Coach Mike Gillespie tried Farlow at second. Farlow said he played well for about 20 games, until Gillespie moved Farlow back to shortstop and Bret Boone, who had been playing shortstop, to second base.

"Having not played shortstop for a while, I made a few errors, had two bad games, and I was done again," Farlow said. "I didn't move back to second base, just out."

Farlow says his problems at USC stemmed from an NCAA regional game during his freshman season, in which Farlow replaced injured Brett Barberie in the early innings of a game against Fresno State.

Farlow, who played sparingly all season, made two errors, and the Trojans, who needed to win one of two games to advance to the College World Series, lost. He didn't play the second game, which USC also lost.

"The confidence in me wasn't there throughout my sophomore year," Farlow said. "I think that playoff game was always in the back of the coach's mind. That's my opinion."

Gillespie insists that he never lost confidence in Farlow.

"My feeling is we were direct in our evaluations of him and that he was treated fairly," Gillespie said. "We liked him. We just didn't think he was going to play immediately. He was a third baseman for most of his high school career, and shortstop was still a new position for him."

Also new to Farlow was Gillespie's coaching style. Gillespie admits he is more intense than most baseball coaches--that he tries hard to make corrections when he feels players are doing something wrong.

Gillespie needed some consistency out of his shortstop last season and wasn't getting it, so Farlow wound up taking a lot of heat.

"That position being so important to us, he got very close scrutiny," Gillespie said. "I was always hovering around him, and I always had comments to make. Whether it's accurate to say they were constructive or critical depends on who you hear them from. I tried to convey coaching, but maybe he saw it a different way."

Farlow said he never felt indifferent toward Gillespie, though.

"I realize his intentions were to get me going, but they had a negative effect," he said. "It didn't motivate me. It did just the opposite. The game is mostly mental, and if you have your mind on what the coach is thinking, how can you play your best? There's no way."

Farlow knew he needed to transfer to a school where he could play every day, and that decision wasn't too difficult. When USC played Fullerton in 1989, the Titans made five errors. Farlow figured, if he couldn't play at Fullerton, he couldn't play anywhere.

"I have to admit, I came here a little cocky," Farlow said. "I knew what they did last year and I knew I was going to do the job at shortstop."

He also has done a respectable job at the plate, raising his average from .210 midway through the season to .277. Farlow, who moved from the No. 9 spot in the order to No. 7, hit .355 in Big West Conference games and has six home runs and 31 runs batted in.

He hit .286 with two RBIs during the NCAA Central regional but was named to the all-tournament team on the strength of his defense. Farlow, who has a strong arm, had 14 assists, including several on plays up the middle, four putouts and no errors in four games.

The key to his season, Farlow said, was playing in a more relaxed atmosphere.

"I don't need someone always on my back, I just need to play and do my own thing," he said. "They're confident about my skills here, and they don't feel they have to tell me what to do. I think I was always a good shortstop, but I've been able to show it more here."

Gillespie is not surprised by Farlow's success.

"With us, he was in there one day and out the next," Gillespie said. "I'm sure he was looking over his shoulder, thinking he was going to get the hook when he booted one. It was a wise and good move for him to transfer. He has settled into the shortstop position and is playing comfortably."

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