Max Venable Returns to His Field of Dreams : Baseball: The Angel left fielder came back after a full year away from the game, and bucking the odds, he’s playing better than ever.


Two years ago, Max Venable made what seemed to be a wise decision. He quit playing baseball.

The Baltimore Orioles helped him reach that decision, releasing Venable at the conclusion of spring training. At age 30, he reluctantly accepted his lot and took a job working construction in Marin County.

Last year, Venable made what seemed to be an unwise decision. After sitting out the entire 1988 season, he signed a contract with the Angels. So rather than spend more time at home with his wife and three young children, he spent the spring playing baseball in Triple A Edmonton.


For players such as Max Venable, professional baseball is a numbing succession of trips back and forth between the majors and the minors. At some point, a player decides enough is enough. Venable reached that point, then changed his mind.

“Kids dream of playing in the big leagues,” Venable said. “It’s hard to pull away from a game you’ve played most of your life.”

But Venable’s dreams often are fragmented, and so it was last year when the Angels called him up in July. Venable collected 10 hits in 20 at-bats and was promptly issued a return ticket to Edmonton.

In other words, nothing had changed.

Until this year.

Venable has spent all or part--mostly part--of 11 professional seasons in the big leagues. But never has he done anything even remotely comparable to this season.

He is batting .304, more than 60 points above his career average. He is playing good defense in left field, as he showed Tuesday night here against the A’s when he threw out Jose Canseco and Ozzie Canseco at second base in separate innings. A left-handed hitter who platoons with Dante Bichette, Venable will almost certainly avoid banishment to Edmonton.

Having completed his stretching exercises at the Oakland Coliseum before Wednesday’s 13-3 loss to the A’s, the loudspeaker blaring that old Doors classic “Break on Through,” Venable was asked to describe how it must feel to have this sort of success after all he has been through.

“It’s just one of those years when things go right,” he said. “I have a manager who believes in me. You could say I’m finally in the right place at the right time.”

Angels Manager Doug Rader has little to smile about these days, his team languishing in fifth place, 15 1/2 games behind the A’s. But the mention of Venable’s name lights up his weary face.

“I admire him a tremendous amount,” Rader said. “He’s got a very strong character. That’s almost unheard of, sitting out a year at his age and then coming back. But he has done everything he could possibly do to get to this point.”

That’s the way it has always been, ever since Venable signed with the Dodgers in 1976 after initially accepting a football scholarship from the University of Utah.

This is his fourth port of call in the majors. Just twice--in 1983 with the San Francisco Giants and in 1986 with the Cincinnati Reds--has Venable lasted an entire season in the bigs. He is making $250,000 this year with the Angels, with possibly even richer prospects for the future.

“If I finish out well, I don’t know, it might get me another year or two,” Venable said. “But I do know I want to stay in baseball in some capacity. It’s a game I won’t be able to pull away from until the day I die.”