It took two strong seasons, but former Southern California College pitcher Jim Dedrick is finally gaining notoriety for his exploits on the mound instead of his one famous prank off it.
Dedrick was one of the "Wausau Water Boys," five minor leaguers who, hoping to improve the chances of a rainout in South Bend, Ind., late in the 1990 season, pulled the tarpaulin off the field during a storm the night before a doubleheader. The Wausau (Wis.) Timbers were finishing a 19-game road trip, and the players were hoping to get home a day early.
These weren't professional criminals, though. The cabbie who dropped the players off at the stadium that night fingered the suspects for police, and the Midwest League came down with severe punishments--$200 fines and 18-game suspensions without pay.
The prank, which was compared to a similar attempt in "Bull Durham," gained national attention, and for the next year or so, Dedrick couldn't get through an interview without discussing the incident.
But these days, there's so much more to talk about. Dedrick, whose first two seasons in the Baltimore Orioles' organization were marred by injury, went 8-4 with a 3.06 earned+run average for Class-A Frederick (Md.) in 1992 and is 7-2 with a 1.84 ERA for double-A Bowie (Md.) this season.
"(The incident) is never brought up anymore--it's behind me," said Dedrick, a 1986 Huntington Beach High graduate who also played at Orange Coast College. "I'd like to be known more for my baseball more than that. I think I've opened some people's eyes in the organization. I know some coaches like me, and I think I have a chance to pitch in the major leagues."
That would be a major accomplishment for Dedrick, considering the 6-foot, 185-pound right-hander was only a 33rd-round pick in 1990. The long reliever and spot starter doesn't have an overpowering fastball but has good control and changes speeds well. He has struck out 42 and walked only 19 this season.
Dedrick, who spent four months last winter pitching in the Australian Baseball League, has allowed only one run in 12 innings of his first two 1993 starts. He also has the distinction of being the only Eastern League pitcher to shut out the powerful Harrisburg Senators, who are averaging 6.5 runs a game.
Dedrick, 25, spent much of his first two seasons on the disabled list. Surgery to remove a bone chip in his elbow limited him to three games in 1990, and a torn muscle in the same elbow sidelined him for two months in 1991.
But he has remained injury free for the past 1 1/2 seasons and appears to have improved his chances of reaching the majors.
Even if Dedrick never makes the big leagues, he's at least had a taste of it. Because construction of a new stadium in Bowie is not complete, the team has played its home games in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, past home of the Orioles.
"There's an atmosphere in that park, and you can feel it when you walk in," Dedrick said. "It's hard to explain, but our record at home is a lot better than it is on the road. It's the best minor league field in the country."
Over the hump: When Kevin Shaw signed with the Kansas City Royals out of Katella High School in 1987, team executives told the eighth-round draft pick they expected him to reach the major leagues by 1991.
"I was real excited," said Shaw, a 6-foot-4, 235-pounder pitcher. "I was a top prospect for two or three years, and I knew they wanted to move me."
Glaciers have moved quicker. Shaw, saddled with arm trouble, never advanced past the Class-A level in six years with the Royals. He spent four seasons at Baseball City, the organization's Class-A team in the Florida State League.
Shaw had some good years, with sub-3.00 ERAs in five of the six seasons, but the Royals, fearing he hadn't regained all of his arm strength from surgeries in 1989 and '90, didn't protect Shaw in the Rule V draft this past off-season.
The Cincinnati Reds selected the right-hander, and Shaw finally got a taste of the double-A life this season. The starter-turned-reliever is 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA and one save in two months for the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Lookouts after spending April at Class-A Winston-Salem, N.C.
"It feels great," Shaw said. "The level of competition is so much better, it makes you a better pitcher. You have to throw all your pitches for strikes."
Shaw, who said his fastball is gaining velocity, got special satisfaction out of striking out five in three innings against the Memphis Chicks, Kansas City's double-A team in the Southern League.
"I was just killing them," Shaw said. "All their player development guys were there, and they could see my fastball coming back. They knew I was coming around, and I think that hurt them."
June boom: Former Esperanza High and Cal State Fullerton catcher Jason Moler recovered from a sluggish start, batting .393 in June to help raise his season average to .293 for the Class-A Clearwater Phillies of the Florida State League.
Moler, who helped Fullerton reach the College World Series championship game in 1992 but didn't start his professional career until 1993 because of a knee injury, hit .210 in April and .255 in May.
But two minor adjustments in recent weeks led to his hot streak, during which Moler rose to second in the league in home runs (13) and fourth in runs batted in (57).
"I was too close to the plate and they were pitching me inside--I must have popped up 10 or 12 times in April," Moler said. "So they just backed me off the plate. I also started swinging at off-speed pitches early in the count. I was taking too many changeups and curves and getting into holes."