Fernando Valenzuela could be on his way back to the major leagues. Chris Haslock could be on his way out of baseball.
The two pitchers, seemingly heading in opposite directions on the professional baseball ladder, met at a crossroads earlier this week in Palm Springs. Valenzuela started for the Angels' Class-A California League affiliate while Haslock pitched in relief for the High Desert Mavericks of the San Diego Padres organization.
"I was battling Fernando, we were throwing the same ball," said Haslock, who gave up three runs, three hits and four walks in three innings. "But most of his pitches were finding the (catcher's) glove. Mine weren't.
"I think I was paying the price for the time I spent on the golf course that day."
Haslock, a 26-year-old right-hander from Burbank, is the oldest player on the Mavericks' roster. This is his third season in Class A, and he realizes that the end could be near. Especially if he doesn't improve on the 0-1 record and 4.74 earned-run average he took into last week's play.
"It's getting far-fetched for me to be able to make the major leagues," said Haslock, who played at Valley College and was drafted by the Padres out of Cal State Dominguez Hills in the 27th round of the 1988 draft. "But I love baseball and I'm going to keep playing until someone tells me I can't anymore."
What keeps Haslock going?
Well, for one, there is the fan support of the High Desert franchise, a first-year operation in Adelanto. The Mavericks, who were formerly the Riverside Red Wave, play in a sparkling new stadium and are among the top three Class-A teams in attendance.
And however remote the chances of Haslock advancing to the big leagues, he still dreams the dream of every player who has ever worn a uniform in the minor leagues.
"You never know. Just screwing around in the bullpen, I may come up with a pitch that turns out to be something new that they can't hit," Haslock said. "There's always a chance as long as you're playing."
Feeling his oats: Rick Allen is happy to be playing this season for the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Lookouts, the Cincinnati Reds' affiliate in the double-A Southern League.
Allen, a third baseman from Calabasas, was eager to move up after spending last season in Cedar Rapids, Iowa--home of the Reds' Class-A team in the Midwest League. Cedar Rapids had all the atmosphere you could want from a minor-league town--especially if you're an oatmeal freak.
That, at least, is Allen's assessment of the city that is home to a monolithic Quaker Oats factory.
"It smells like burnt cereal all the time," Allen said. "It hovers around the city and the ballpark."
Allen, a hard-nosed player who was selected out of Loyola Marymount in the 10th round of the 1989 draft, recently returned to the Chattanooga lineup. He missed eight games because of a leg injury sustained while diving into the dugout after a foul ball and began the week hitting just .179.
"This is a Civil War town," he said. "I really haven't had much time to find out a lot about it. But I know this, it sure smells better than Cedar Rapids."
Catch as catch can: Tim Laker continues to ascend through the Montreal Expos organization one step at a time, which suits the former Simi Valley High and Oxnard College catcher just fine.
Laker, the Expos' sixth-round draft pick in 1988, began last week hitting .214 at West Palm Beach, Montreal's affiliate in the Class-A Florida State League.
Last season, Laker batted .221 with seven home runs and 57 runs batted in for Class-A Rockford in the Midwest League.
"I think my defense has been carrying me, but hitting is what's going to allow me to make the big jump, so that's what I need to improve the most.
"I pretty much always have a little ache or pain in my arm or somewhere, but you can't move up if you're not playing."