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Hughes Catching Up in His Comeback Bid : Cape Cod League: Former Notre Dame High star erases effects of layoff by helping team to a division title.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Cape Cod League is loaded with players from the ranks of the NCAA’s best Division I schools. They are highly touted ballplayers who shredded collegiate competition in the spring, players bent on proving that they can do as well statistically while wielding a wooden bat.

Team media guides list each player and his recent college accomplishments. The publications are littered with players who were all-this and all-that last spring.

Players included in the guides are from national powers such as Stanford, USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Auburn, Arizona, Pepperdine, Mississippi State, Georgia . . . and Valley College.

Former Notre Dame High catcher Bobby Hughes did, in fact, attend Valley College during the 1990-91 school term, but he did not play. So, unlike most of his counterparts, Hughes’ dossier in the Wareham press guide is small, primarily because he spent last season on his derriere.

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While the overwhelming number of Hughes’ peers are playing in the Cape to prove that they can make the transition from aluminum to wood bats, Hughes (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) is playing to show that he has made the transition from couch to crouch.

In a manner of speaking, Hughes has started anew. Call him the Cape’s Avenger.

After a superlative season at Loyola Marymount in 1990, during which he earned freshman All-American honors, Hughes left the school after losing an appeal over a grade change. Rather than face Loyola Marymount’s edict that he sit out a season of baseball while trying to raise his grade-point average, Hughes enrolled at Valley. There, in keeping with NCAA requirements, Hughes sat out one season while awaiting an offer from another four-year school.

Hughes, 20, received a scholarship to USC for next season and also is weighing a professional offer from the Detroit Tigers, who selected him in the middle rounds of the June amateur draft. First, however, Hughes set about proving that his layoff had not affected him.

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“That (layoff) hasn’t been the greatest thing,” he said.

For a few weeks, neither was Hughes. He worked out in the batting cages and jogged in an attempt to stay sharp last season but neglected his throwing arm, which became sore and forced him to sit out two games. Staying focused mentally also slowed him at first.

“Catching is much more of a defensive position than an offensive one,” said Hughes, who also has played left field, second base, first base and pitched for Wareham. “If you’re not mentally prepared, you can do some serious damage to the team.”

He did little damage offensively through the first 15 games. Batting in the cleanup position, Hughes struggled, batting just .189. He was dropped to No. 8 in the lineup, but as the rust started chipping away, so did Hughes.

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Hughes rallied to finish the regular season at .278, with five home runs and 24 runs batted in. Wareham won its division and advances to the playoffs--which begin today--with the best record (30-14) in the 10-team league.

“I started off real slow because I’d been off all season,” Hughes said. “As soon as I got back into the live-pitching mode, I completely turned it around.”

Hughes turned around a fastball or two during the past month. Of his five home runs, one was a grand slam and three came with two runners aboard. Two of the home runs by Hughes, who bats right-handed, were hit to the opposite field.

Hughes, like most Cape players, has a day job and lives with a sponsor family. Hughes coaches at the Wareham youth baseball camp from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the week, then arrives at the ballpark about 4. The games begin at 7 and last approximately three hours.

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“It makes for a pretty long day,” Hughes said. “It’s a lot like minor league baseball. We play four games in four days, take a day off, then play four more. It’s a grind, but that’s baseball.”

It has whet his appetite for more. Hughes is set to return to California on Friday. Within a day or so, a Detroit Tiger representative is scheduled to visit to discuss a contract offer. During his stay in the Cape, Hughes’ progress was closely monitored by several high-ranking Detroit scouts.

“I’d really like to get started with a professional career,” said Hughes, who will again be eligible for the amateur draft in June. “But it won’t kill me if I don’t begin right now.”

College or pro, it beats sitting in the stands. The guy who has experienced both ends of the baseball saturation spectrum prefers to stay in the more active mode.

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“It’s been a long summer,” Hughes said, “but it’s been fun.”


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