As kids growing up in Chula Vista, Romy Cucjen and his younger brother, Rick, worked on developing good hands by throwing grounders to each other with a rubber-coated ball in the street.
Both succeeded, later becoming known as slick-fielding shortstops at Bonita Vista High and Southwestern College in the early 1980s.
Today, Rick works in Seattle for an insurance company whose slogan is, “Leave it to the good hands people.”
Romy, an infielder for Indianapolis--the Montreal Expos’ triple-A affiliate--is a devout Christian who says he leaves it to somebody else.
“My career,” he said, “is in His hands. I give everything I can and do the best that I can. I want very much to make it to the major leagues, and I believe I will.”
Cucjen visits hospitals, coaches a youth team in the off-season and leads Bible study groups. And he is not shy about expressing his religious convictions. “I feel God is using me to spread His word,” he says.
“I know it’s not your average ballplayer’s view on things, but I’m not your average ballplayer. I’m playing for the Lord, and that’s my reason for playing.”
So can he play? Can he make that final jump at the age of 28 after four years in college and six years in the minors?
The Expos seemed to think so. They traded a promising left-handed pitcher, Isaac Alleyne, to the St. Louis Cardinals for Cucjen on Jan. 10.
Said Cucjen, who spent his previous years--four with the Giant organization and one with the Cardinal farm system--as a utility infielder, “It was an answer to a prayer, because they wanted me to play one position every day.”
That he has done, hitting .275 with three home runs and 22 runs batted in as third baseman for Indianapolis. He was hitting above .300, but a knee injury from sliding after a foul ball has taken its toll.
At Bonita Vista, Cucjen was the Barons’ most valuable player in his senior year. From there, he crossed the street to Southwestern, where he was MVP in 1982.
The Orioles drafted him, but Cucjen opted for a scholarship to Arizona State.
He hit .305 both years in Tempe as the Sun Devils advanced to the College World Series in ’83 and ’84. The ’84 team ended 55-20 and ranked second in the nation. During that season, Cucjen hit 16 homers and had 55 RBIs.
The Giants drafted him in the 17th round, but it took Cucjen a while to find out, because he was in Omaha, Neb., preparing for a College World Series game against Oklahoma State.
One by one, though, Cucjen learned of teammates being drafted. Oddibe McDowell was taken by Texas, Mike Devereaux by the Dodgers and so on. He and his wife, Christine, were beginning to wonder.
“Everyone was getting drafted,” Cucjen said, “even the guys that didn’t play. I was starting to get frustrated and finally went back to the hotel and told my wife, ‘Well, I guess we’re not playing pro ball.’
“A few hours later, I went down to the lobby and Coach (Jim) Brock told me I was drafted. It was such a roller coaster of emotions.”
Later that evening, in a 23-12 rout of Oklahoma State, Cucjen went four for six with a home run and four RBIs.
Being married, Romy and Christine have had some difficulties living in the minor leagues. They figured out a few weeks ago that they have moved 21 times in six years.
“It’s definitely not a life style I recommend for many couples,” Cucjen said. “You have to roll with the punches, and there’s a lot of punches. We laugh about it now, but at the time, it was pretty hard.”
Frank Carey, a former Granite Hills High star who holds the San Diego Section career stolen base record for 2-A and 3-A players, ignited the game-winning rally with a double to lead his team to a 10-5 victory in the Midwest League All-Star game. Heading into this week, Carey, a second baseman with the Clinton (Iowa) Giants, was batting .291 (eighth in the league) with 30 RBIs and eight stolen bases.
Eddie Williams, a third baseman for the Padres’ triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas, has been selected to play in the Pacific Coast League All-Star game July 11 in Las Vegas. Before Friday, Williams, a former star at Hoover High, was hitting more than .300 with 13 home runs.