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After Phenomenal Start, Redington Gets Down to Business

TIMES STAFF WRITER

People have been predicting great things for Tom Redington ever since he was playing baseball at Esperanza High School. He’s carried the label ‘Can’t Miss’ for so long that it’s almost a nickname.

Scouts have raved about him. General managers have craved him. And Baseball America--a publication that scours the minor leagues in search of the future--has projected Redington as the San Diego Padres’ third baseman on opening day, 1994.

Everyone talks about Redington’s wonderful future. The thing is, Redington has stopped listening.

“This is a business, I learn that more and more,” Redington said. “You have to stay even-tempered and keep your perspective. If you don’t, you’ll go nuts.”

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Three years of professional baseball haven’t left Redington jaded, merely realistic. He is more focused now and more businesslike.

He’s through with being the phenom and is ready to start working toward his goals. He currently is with the Wichita Wranglers, a double-A team for the Padres.

“It’s amazing, but one year you’re at the top and everything is great,” Redington said. “The next year, everyone is asking you, ‘What happened?’ Sometimes it’s that way from month to month or week to week. You have to take the good and the bad in this business.”

He’s had a bit of both.

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Things were good when Redington established himself right off the bat in the minors. Drafted in the third round by the Atlanta Braves in 1987, he moved quickly through the organization and was selected the Midwest League’s top prospect in 1989.

Things were bad when Redington suffered a nagging injury in 1990. The Braves began to lose interest and, last winter, tried to slip him off their 40-man major league roster, placing him on waivers.

But that, ultimately, could be good for Redington, who was claimed by the Padres.

“I think a lot of guys would have been depressed if they were put on waivers,” Redington said. “But this was the best thing that could happen to me. If all works out, I’ll be coming home to play in Southern California.”

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Redington was at his parents’ house in Anaheim Nov. 16 when Joe McIlvaine, the Padre general manager, called to inform him that the team had claimed him.

This was news to Redington, who didn’t know he had been placed on waivers.

“I never heard a word from the Braves,” Redington said. “I was lifting weights and my mom said that someone from the Padres was on the phone. I was shocked.”

In part, Redington was caught in a numbers game.

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The Braves, 65-97 in 1990, went searching for immediate help in the free-agent market. They eventually signed five players, including third baseman Terry Pendleton.

To make room on the major league roster, the Braves placed Redington on irrevocable waivers with the idea of re-assigning him to a minor league team. However, before that could happen, he was claimed by the Padres for $20,000.

“I think they tried to sneak Tom through, but we foiled that a little,” McIlvaine said. “We saw Tom’s name on the waiver list and immediately put a claim in on him.”

McIlvaine, who previously worked for the New York Mets, was familiar with Redington and his abilities, having seen him play at Esperanza.

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Redington hit .442 as a junior and .366 as a senior, when he was named The Times Orange County player of the year. He also had 22 home runs in three years on the varsity, tying the county career record.

That success continued after he signed with the Braves. Redington by-passed the rookie leagues, heading to Sumter (S.C.), a Class A team, where he hit .321 in 18 games.

In 1989, he hit .299 with 17 home runs for Burlington (Iowa), a Class A team, and was named the most valuable player in the Midwest League. Redington finished the season at Greenville (S.C.), a double-A team, where he hit .248 in 33 games.

“I wasn’t even 21 and I was already playing double-A,” Redington said. “I thought everything was going great.”

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When Redington reported to spring training last season, he was overweight. He got off to a slow start at Greenville, partly because of a pulled hamstring that caused him to miss three weeks.

Still, he hit .252 with 12 home runs.

Redington had developed a long swing, which the Braves worked to change. They were also concerned about his play in the field. Redington, a shortstop in high school, made 21 errors at third base his first full season and 18 last season at Greenville.

Those factors played in the decision to take Redington off the major league roster.

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“I wouldn’t say we were displeased with him, but obviously there were 40 other players we wanted to keep,” said Chuck LaMar, who was named the Braves’ director of scouting and player development in November.

Redington spent spring training in the Padre camp, but he was optioned to Wichita at the start of the season. Still, he feels his chances to advance are better than when he was with the Braves.

The Padres have had trouble filling the third base position. Utility players Marty Barrett, Garry Templeton and Paul Faries were also used at third before the Padres called up Scott Coolbaugh from Las Vegas, their triple-A team.

“The Braves gave Pendleton a four-year contract, so obviously I wasn’t going to get to advance for at least four years,” Redington said. “When the Padres called up Scott, that left an opening in Las Vegas. If I get hot, maybe I can fill that spot.”

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Redington has been improving. After missing 17 games because of strained ligaments in his thumb, his average is .292 after 63 games and 219 at-bats. He has four homers, 34 RBIs but has committed 16 errors.

“You have to prove every day that you’re good enough to make it to the major leagues,” Redington said. “It doesn’t matter how many people say you have a great future. You can’t listen. You have to prove it on the field.”


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