Eric Albright stares at the rain hitting his hotel window in Lakeland, Fla., wondering whether he will get a chance to play.
“You hear about how nice it is to live in Florida,” Albright said. “The weather out here is terrible.”
But even on clear days, the former Rolling Hills High standout doesn’t always get an opportunity to play. Albright shares the catching duties with Mike Gillette on the Lakeland Tigers, a class-A team in the Florida State League.
No matter how well he hits or how well he catches, Albright will start only every other day. He believes the lack of playing time has cost him a few points in his batting average, which stood at .209 with one home run and 17 runs batted in at the beginning of the week.
“It’s a lot harder to get into a groove hitting or catching,” Albright said. “One day I feel great hitting the ball and the next day I’m on the bench. Then the next day, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Sometimes it rains like today.”
After finishing high school in 1984, Albright played two seasons at Harbor College then accepted a scholarship from Texas A&M.; He redshirted his senior year there, then had a .330 batting average with 15 home runs in 1989.
Albright was selected in the seventh round by Detroit in the June amateur draft and played for the Tigers’ New York-Penn League team in Niagara Falls.
Albright knows you don’t get too many chances at the class-A level, traditionally the clearing house for prospects. You either shine there and advance to double-A or you get released. Albright knows he’s on the bubble, but it’s not his hitting that worries him.
“At this level, (the Tigers) are not worried about how well I hit,” Albright said. “They want to see how well I can do defensively. Right now, my arm hasn’t been very strong because of the lack of playing time.
“It’s hard to keep it going, not playing every day.”
Getting a second chance: First baseman Tom Doyle, the former Redondo High star, knows what it’s like to have your minor league career cut short.
Doyle, who was drafted in the 51st round by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1988, was released after playing rookie ball for the Martinsville, Va., team in the Appalachian League. In 22 games, Doyle had a .197 batting average with one home run and seven RBIs.
“I thought I did well at spring training,” Doyle said. “But the Phillies got a new general manager (Lee Thomas) and decided to clean house. I was the first to go.”
Doyle didn’t give up hope. In 1989, he played for several scout teams and was signed to a free-agent contract by the San Diego Padres.
Doyle benefited from the major-league owners’ lockout, which delayed the start of spring training.
“It helped me a lot,” Doyle said. “We had three fields to ourselves and played every day. The head guys had nothing else to do but watch us. I had a lot of hits in spring training.”
After maintaining a batting average above .300 for nearly two months, Doyle has struggled. He has slipped to .230, three home runs and 31 RBIs.
Doyle thought his slump had ended after going four for six with a home run and two RBIs against the Burlington Braves. The next day against the Braves, however, Doyle went 0 for 4 despite hitting three line drives.
“The minors really test your love to play baseball,” Doyle said.
Just for laughs: Actor/comedian Billy Crystal, who became a TV headliner after appearing for several years on “Saturday Night Live,” recently became a minority owner of the Reno Silversox, a class-A independent team in the California League composed of “Not Ready for Prime Time” players.
He joins such celebrities as NBC President Brandon Tartikoff, actor Robert Wagner, novelist Sidney Sheldon and actress Deborah Raffin. The team president is movie producer Jerry Leider.
Going the distance: Pitcher Steve Maye, out of Harbor College, recorded his 11th complete game last Sunday, the most in professional baseball.
Maye, who who plays for the Salinas Spurs, has gone the distance more times than the combined total of seven pitching staffs in the California League. Aside from the Spurs, only Visalia (15) and Stockton (12) have more.
Maye, a right-hander, has the most low-hit games (three hits or less) by a California League pitcher since 1982. He has pitched four three-hit games, including two shutouts. Former Oakland Athletic pitcher Mike Warren holds the record with five.
Maye has a 6-14 record for the Spurs, a team last in batting and fielding. In six of his losses, he has given up no more than three earned runs.