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Ridenour Approaches the Mountaintop : Baseball: Former Sylmar High star believes he can make jump to major leagues with Colorado Rockies.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For Dana Ridenour, the teammates have changed regularly during his eight-year, nine-team odyssey through the minor leagues, but the postgame activity of talking trash with them has not.

“We watch television and talk about major league players,” Ridenour said. “We say, ‘Oh look at that guy. How could he be there and I’m here?’ ” Ridenour said.

He paused--realizing that the dogging of major leaguers by minor leaguers is pointless.

“And I’m sure when I’m there, everyone will be saying the same thing,” Ridenour said, laughing.

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Ridenour, a former Sylmar High standout who was named City Section 4-A Division co-player of the year in 1983, was one of 33 pitchers vying for a berth on the Colorado Rockies’ opening day roster. He was assigned March 22 to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, the Rockies’ triple-A affiliate.

Despite being sent down before opening day, Ridenour, 27, hopes the Rockies organization will eventually represent his springboard into the major leagues.

“I’m definitely thinking that I need to make the big leagues soon, but I’m not at the end of the rope where this is my last year. I know I can pitch at that level so I’m not discouraged,” Ridenour said.

Ridenour (2-2) holds the third-best earned-run average among the Sky Sox 10 relievers at 2.79 and in 10 appearances has 21 strikeouts and eight walks in 19 1/3 innings.

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If Ridenour (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) was discouraged, no one could blame him. He also was invited to the New York Yankees’ spring training camp in 1989, but did not make the team. During a conversation that spring with Bob Geren--a 10-year minor leaguer--a long minor league career didn’t seem too bad. Ridenour didn’t expect that his own minor league tour would stretch to eight years.

“I said to him that it would be great just to play 10 years (in the minor leagues), but now I’m not too excited about it,” Ridenour said. “I have a lot of good years left to pitch. I just want to make it.”

Ridenour’s saga began after playing three years at UCLA. In the summer of 1986, after his junior year, the right-handed reliever was drafted in the 16th round by the Yankees and played on their short-season Class-A team in Oneonta, N.Y.

After three years in the Yankee system--Fort Lauderdale, Fla., (Class A); Albany, N.Y., (double A); and Columbus, Ohio, (triple A)--Ridenour was dealt to the Seattle Mariners in a trade that sent first baseman Steve Balboni to the Yankees.

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Ridenour spent three seasons in the Mariner farm system, then was picked by the Montreal Expos in the minor league draft in December, 1990. He was assigned to their triple-A team in Indianapolis, where he played in 1991 and 1992.

With the moving, the trading, and the low pay, the minor leagues have taken their toll on Ridenour.

“It’s a different life,” he said. “It’s not like anything you’d expect. It’s more work and less pay than anything else. We scrape to pay rent in the summer.”

To make ends meet, Ridenour held numerous odd jobs in the off-season. He has worked as a parking valet in Marina del Rey, a waiter at a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale and as a substitute teacher.

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“It’s definitely a marathon,” Ridenour said. “You see guys struggling with their families with their kids and moving. But they’re all in it to pursue their dream. That’s what it’s all about.”

If he makes the major leagues, life will be easier for Ridenour’s family--wife Tracey and 10-month-old son Adam Joseph. “She’s a great baseball wife,” Ridenour said. “She drives to the next city and I fly. She has the hard work.”

Ridenour credits his wife for giving him the strength to survive the last two seasons in Indianapolis, where he thought he was going to be called up by the Expos.

“I thought I was going up in 1988 with the Yankees and in 1991 with the Expos, but I’m still here trying to make it,” he said.

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Despite the letdowns, Ridenour posted moderate numbers (1-1 record, 3.09 ERA, six saves, nine walks, 37 strikeouts) over 46 2/3 innings in 30 games last season for Indianapolis. But Ridenour was dealt to the Angels’ triple-A team in Edmonton, where he was 1-0 with a 6.10 ERA over 10 1/3 innings in five games during the Pacific Coast League playoffs.

Becoming a free agent at the end of the season, Ridenour didn’t know where he would be going next.

But when Larry Bearnarth, the Expos’ pitching coach, was named to the same job with the Rockies, he remembered Ridenour from his days in Indianapolis. Ridenour received a non-roster invitation to the expansion team’s first spring training camp.

“I can picture Dana Ridenour pitching at some point in time with the Rockies,” Bearnarth said.

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Impressed with Ridenour’s forkball, Bearnarth said he sees the former Valley star as a setup man. “Hopefully, we’ll need a setup man because that will mean we’re winning,” Bearnarth said.

One of the pitchers who beat out Ridenour for a berth in the Rockies’ bullpen is Steve Reed, who pitched for Chatsworth against Ridenour and Sylmar in the 1983 City final at Dodger Stadium, a game won by Chatsworth, 8-7. Though the two did not meet until this year, “We kid each other and the story is always getting better of who hit who,” said Ridenour, who was 8-3 with an 0.82 ERA his senior year.

Reed and Ridenour combining for a Rockies’ victory would be the best story of all.

“The difference between (Colorado) and the way it is with other clubs is, they’re not obligated to see their draft picks or the guys they want to see make the big leagues,” Ridenour said.

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Ridenour is certainly an expert on how other teams operate. With the knowledge of having played for nine minor league teams, Ridenour said this might be his best shot. “If there was ever a chance, the Rockies have provided it for me,” he said.


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