BASEBALL / STEVE HENSON : Hungry for Career in Majors, Hilton Resolves to Curb Appetite


Howard Hilton led the triple-A International League in appearances last season in more ways than one.

The right-hander appeared in 70 games for the Louisville Redbirds. He also made at least that many visits to Burger King, Jack-in-the-Box, McDonald’s. . . .

“I’m a hamburger man,” said Hilton, somewhat round on the mound at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds.


The Cardinals believe that Hilton’s heft takes mustard off his pitches, so he has agreed to lose weight during the off-season.

“I’ve got a bit of a stomach on me,” conceded Hilton, who opened the season in St. Louis but was demoted April 15. “Weight has always been a problem.”

Cardinal third baseman Terry Pendleton, who successfully shed excess pounds a couple of years ago, has pledged to aid Hilton. They both grew up in Oxnard and attended Oxnard College.

“Pendleton talks to me about it,” Hilton said. “I get on an eating binge, then figure I’d better stop. I need to really concentrate.

“Maybe I need a diet clinic.”

Hilton, 26, is past the denial stage. Admitting the problem is as easy for the right-hander as pitching three or four days in a row. He made 198 appearances the past three seasons and his earned-run average in six minor-league seasons is 2.91.

“I’ve thrown the ball well enough to get a legitimate chance at the big leagues,” said Hilton, who is 4-2 with a 2.48 ERA in 40 relief appearances this season. “But they are selling a product out there and want a person to look like a ballplayer. That’s why I have to lose weight.”

Add eating: Hilton’s best pitch, ironically, is a forkball, which, of course, finds the plate. His improved control of the pitch led to his being placed on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster this spring.

Being on the roster worked to his disadvantage, however, when he was locked out of spring training along with established major leaguers. To make ends meet during the lockout, Hilton found another job--at a grocery store.

The book on Reed: It’s a lot like that home-run trot he is beginning to perfect. Darren Reed merrily moves along, only to find he is right back where he started.

A few years ago in the New York Yankee organization, Reed’s defensive skills as a catcher were questioned. His answer: Become an outfielder.

After he was traded to the Mets, the rap against Reed was that he lacked power. Answer: He started doing some rapping of his own.

After 75 games this season at Tidewater (Va.) of the International League, Reed leads the team with 14 home runs and 61 runs batted in--a significant jump from his totals of four home runs and 50 RBIs in 133 games last year with Tidewater.

Improvement, however, has not resulted in promotion.

When the Mets needed outfield help early in the season, they traded for Daryl Boston rather than play Reed, who is from Ventura High. Now the Mets are playing well, trailing Pittsburgh by only a half-game in the National League East, and they are not eager to make a change.

“Chemistry is important, and with the team winning, we don’t want to make changes now,” said Steve Phillips, a Met official. “Darren is definitely having an impressive year and he’s in the plan somewhere down the line.”

Reed’s opportunity might come next season if Met right fielder Darryl Strawberry signs elsewhere as a free agent.

Such a deal: For Travis Kinyoun, it was the equivalent of jumping on a wide-open interchange after being stuck in traffic for hours.

On July 1, he was just one more catcher in the Detroit Tigers’ farm system, an organization backed up with backstops.

The next day, Kinyoun was traded to the Mets, an organization thin at catcher. Now he has a chance to get ahead by being behind the plate.

“We saw a need for catching prospects, so we picked up Travis and we’re glad we did,” said Phillips. “He’s a hard worker and he has some ability.”

Kinyoun, who attended Royal High, was assigned to the Mets’ rookie team at Kingsport, Tenn. Within a week he was promoted to Pittsfield (Mass.) of the Class-A New York-Penn League, where he shares duties with Albert Castillo.

Take a bow: Baseball America magazine’s midseason “Best Of” list includes three area players. Tacoma right-hander Ray Young, formerly of Moorpark College, is listed as Best Pitching Prospect in the triple-A Pacific Coast League; Rochester’s Jeff Tackett of Camarillo High is Best Defensive Catcher in the International League; and Shreveport’s Rodney Beck of Grant High is listed as Pitcher With Best Control in the double-A Texas League. Beck is no longer at Shreveport, having been promoted a month ago to Phoenix of the PCL.