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MINOR LEAGUE NOTEBOOK / MIKE DiGIOVANNA : Drinkwater Makes a Smooth Landing in Padres’ Organization

A video of Cypress College’s 1991 State championship-game victory over Sacramento City should bring a smile to Sean Drinkwater’s face, but all the former Charger shortstop can do when he sees the tape is wince.

There, on the fringe of the human pile sparked by Troy Babbitt’s 11th-inning, game-winning home run, is Drinkwater, trying to walk but collapsing to the ground on his gimpy left leg.

Like all his teammates on the bench, Drinkwater leaped out of the dugout after Babbitt’s homer gave Cypress an 8-7 victory. But Drinkwater was the only one whose left leg made a crash landing.

As far as he can tell, Drinkwater didn’t fall on a bat or ball or teammate’s foot. But when he landed awkwardly, he completely blew out his knee, tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments.

So much for the celebration.

“It was a freak thing, really bizarre,” said Drinkwater, who is now playing shortstop for the San Diego Padres’ short-season Class-A team at Spokane, Wash. “On the video, you can see me falling to the ground and barely getting up. It’s pretty ugly. I try not to watch it too often.”

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The Chicago Cubs apparently never watched it or heard about it. They picked Drinkwater in the 11th round of the draft a few days later, but once they discovered Drinkwater was to undergo reconstructive surgery, they made no attempts to sign him.

Drinkwater, a 1989 El Toro High School graduate and Times all-county selection, was crushed. His heart had been set on playing professional baseball, so much so that he didn’t bother signing a letter of intent to a four-year college.

“I thought I was ready to sign (a pro contract),” said Drinkwater, who hit .320 with nine homers and 55 runs batted in in 1991 for Cypress. “That killed me, but I guess all things happen for a reason.”

Drinkwater was pleasantly surprised when North Carolina State, which had recruited him lightly, offered a baseball scholarship that summer. He jumped at it, but this time the landing was much smoother.

Drinkwater spent most of the fall semester rehabilitating his knee at North Carolina State, and by February he was the Wolfpack’s starting shortstop. He batted .335 with five homers and 40 RBIs and was a first-team, All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection.

The Wolfpack reached the NCAA tournament but lasted only three games in the East Regional before being eliminated by Miami.

“North Carolina State really took a chance and stuck with me,” said Drinkwater, who attended Texas A&M; in 1989-90 but transferred to Cypress because he didn’t feel he’d get much playing time with the Aggies. “I feel real lucky. If they didn’t give me a scholarship, who knows what would have happened?”

The Padres took Drinkwater in the 17th round in June, and the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder is off to a good offensive start, batting .315 with nine doubles and 20 RBIs in 36 games.

But he’s been in a horrendous defensive slump, committing 20 errors. That’s six more than he made the entire season at North Carolina State.

“One night I pick a grounder up and throw it away, the next I can’t even pick it up,” Drinkwater said. “I’ve never had problems fielding before, and I don’t really know what to do. I’ve been coming out early, taking extra grounders. It’s like a hitting slump--I just have to work myself out of it.”

Good company: Craig Paquette hasn’t played an inning with the Oakland Athletics, and the former Rancho Alamitos High and Golden West College standout hasn’t had a triple-A at-bat in his four professional seasons.

But if you thumb through the A’s media guide, you will find his biography right alongside those of Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and the rest of the 1992 A’s.

How’s that? Paquette is on Oakland’s 40-man, major-league roster, quite an achievement for a player in double-A, and an indication of what the organization thinks of him. The A’s protected him after last season so another team couldn’t pick him up in the Rule V draft.

“That tells me they’re interested in me,” Paquette said. “They’ve told me I’m their third baseman of the future, and that really built my confidence up.”

It shows. Paquette, who had shoulder surgery in January, 1991, and missed about two months of last season, is having a solid season at double-A Huntsville, Ala., batting .261 with 16 doubles, 15 home runs and 59 RBIs in 87 games. He had only eight homers in 102 games at Huntsville last season.

“After surgery last year, I couldn’t lift weights and had no upper-body strength,” said Paquette, an eighth-round pick of the A’s in 1989. “I didn’t lose my swing; I just lost the power. But I worked pretty hard on the weights this off-season, and I’m pretty much 100% now.”

Oaks’ lumber: Outfielder Marty Cordova, who played at Orange Coast College in 1989, is having a most valuable player-type season for the Class-A Visalia Oaks, batting .326 with 21 doubles, 20 home runs and 92 RBIs for the Minnesota Twins’ affiliate.

But he’s not about to clear room on his mantel for the trophy.

“The season isn’t over, so I haven’t had a good season yet,” Cordova recently told the Fresno Bee. “And even if I have a good year, it’s only one year. It takes a lot more than that to make it.”

Cordova should know. He hasn’t risen higher than Class-A in four pro seasons, and he hit only .212 with seven homers and 19 RBIs in an injury plagued 1991 season at Visalia. He hit .216 with seven homers and 25 RBIs at Class-A Kenosha, Wis., in 1990 but made a breakthrough this season.

“He possesses a major league tool that you can’t teach, and that’s bat speed,” Visalia Manager Steve Liddle said. “But he never came to spring training in baseball shape. It’s a year-round job, and it took two years for Marty to realize that.”

Sean Drinkwater

* O.C. PLAYERS IN THE MINORS: C18


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