MINOR LEAGUE NOTEBOOK / MIKE DiGIOVANNA : Injuries to Knees Don't Break Fox

Every time he looks down at those nasty scars on his knees, Eric Fox is reminded of the irony.

The former Capistrano Valley High School two-sport standout quit the Fresno State football team in 1983, hoping to avoid an injury that could jeopardize a promising baseball career.

So what happens? He blows out both knees on the baseball field.

"It kind of bewilders me," said Fox, an outfielder with the Oakland Athletics' triple-A Tacoma team. "But both accidents were kind of freak deals."

The first occurred in Caracas, Venezuela, during the 1983 Pan American Games. Fox, a starter for Team U.S.A., grounded to third, but when the throw sailed past first, he planted his right foot beyond the bag and turned for second.

His right knee, however, took a turn for the worse. Fox, an All-American as a sophomore at Fresno State, tore all three main ligaments in the knee on the pivot. He returned to Fresno and underwent major reconstructive surgery.

Fox sat out the entire 1984 season, was unable to return to Team U.S.A. for the 1984 Olympics, and didn't play again until 1985--18 months after the injury.

"I was a step and half slower from where I was, and speed was my whole game," said Fox, a 5-foot-10, 180-pounder. "It took two years to get back to 99%."

Fox, 27, played three seasons (1986-88) in the Seattle Mariners' organization before signing with the A's as a free agent in 1989. He was having an excellent first half at Tacoma last season, batting .276 with four home runs and 34 RBIs in 62 games, when the second injury occurred.

After fielding a ball in the Edmonton outfield, Fox planted his front (left) foot to throw. But the foot landed in a hole, and Fox heard the knee pop. His anterior cruciate ligament was partially torn, an injury that required surgery and forced him to miss the remainder of the season.

"Edmonton (the Angels' triple-A team) has the worst field in all of organized baseball, and you can quote me on that," Fox said. "I always liked the Angels, but I don't think I'd want to play in Edmonton."

Fox said his left leg is only 90% of its normal strength, but he has still put together a solid season at Tacoma. The switch-hitting, lead-off batter is hitting .268 with 18 doubles, seven triples, 35 RBIs, 61 runs and 13 stolen bases.

He's confident he'll be showing off his battle scars in a major league clubhouse soon.

"Once I get up there, I think I'll have the ugliest knees in baseball," Fox said. "I've got railroad tracks everywhere."

Add Fox: About a month after surgery last year, Fox was depressed and contemplated retirement. He considered pursuing a teaching/coaching career.

"But I figured I'd have my whole life to do that," said Fox, a 1981 Capistrano Valley graduate. "With expansion coming, a lot of jobs will open up, so I figured I'd give it my best shot now."

Still, Fox can't help but wonder how his career would have panned out had he remained healthy in 1984. He believes he would have been a starter on an Olympic team that featured many future major league stars, such as Mark McGwire, B.J. Surhoff, Barry Larkin and Will Clark.

"If I played on that team, there's no doubt in my mind that I would have been in the major leagues the last four or five years," Fox said. "I don't want to sound cocky, but I've seen the talent that's up there now, and I was right with those guys."

Bad break: Another center fielder in the Oakland organization ran into some hard luck last week. James Buccheri, a former Marina High and Golden West College speedster with the double-A Huntsville Stars, fouled a pitch off his left foot and broke his ankle.

Buccheri, who was tied for the Southern League lead in stolen bases with 35 and led the league in walks with 71, returned to Orange County on Wednesday and will miss the rest of the season.

"I'm really disappointed, because I figured I'd end up with 50 stolen bases and 100 walks," Buccheri said. "I wasn't hitting that well (.213), but I was playing real good defense, getting the job done."

Buccheri was injured July 28 in the fourth inning of a game at Birmingham. He remained in the game after fouling the pitch off his ankle but might have done further damage when he planted his foot on his next swing.

"I put my weight on the front foot and heard the ankle snap," said Buccheri, who was caught stealing only seven times this season. "But the doctor said I probably broke it on the first swing."

Because speed is his primary asset, Buccheri, in his third minor league season, is concerned that the injury might slow him and slow his progress.

"I'm kind of worried, but I didn't lose any speed after breaking my leg in high school," Buccheri said. "I have plenty of time to rehabilitate. I just have to be careful not to push it. I should be OK."

No beach bums: Three players from Cal State Long Beach's 1991 College World Series team are off to good starts in professional baseball.

Andy Croghan, a right-handed pitcher from Servite High, is 4-2 with a 5.76 earned-run average and 40 strikeouts for the New York Yankees' Class-A team at Oneonta, N.Y.

Steve Trachsel, a right-handed pitcher who played at Troy High and Fullerton College, is 2-1 with a 3.16 ERA and 32 strikeouts for the Chicago Cubs' Class-A team at Winston-Salem, N.C.

And Scott Talanoa, a designated hitter who played at Orange Coast College, is batting .284 with eight doubles and 18 RBIs for the Milwaukee Brewers' rookie-league team at Helena, Mont.

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