Blyleven Studies Himself, Baseball

No one can say Todd Blyleven didn't give higher education the old college try. Heck, he went to three schools in three years and had plans to attend a fourth.

But there was really only one thing he wanted to do--pitch.

Blyleven, son of former major league pitcher Bert Blyleven, decided to put an end to his school daze, so he signed with the Angels in June.

"I wanted to see what college life was all about," Blyleven said. "I knew I was ready to play pro ball, but I didn't want to look back 20 years from now and say, 'What would have college been like?' I didn't want to miss an opportunity."

The younger Blyleven is exploring other opportunities these days.

He is 4-0 for Mesa, the Angels' rookie league team. Last week, he went seven innings, allowing one run, in an 8-1 victory over the Padres' team in the Arizona State League.

"This is so much fun," said Blyleven, 20. "It's like a dream come true. I've always had this goal to play professional baseball."

Blyleven put that goal off for a while. He went to Oklahoma, then transferred to Cypress and expected to attend Fresno State last year. But he learned he could not play baseball because he had not received his associate's degree at Cypress.

So, Blyleven went to Fresno Community College for one semester, then returned to Cypress for the spring semester. He got to within nine units of his degree, but the urge to pitch was too strong.

"I was really geared up for school," Blyleven said. "I was making plans to go to Fresno State. About May I started realizing school really wasn't for me."

The next step was finding a team.

Blyleven had been drafted by the Angels out of Villa Park High School in 1990 and by the Dodgers after his sophomore season at Cypress. But no one held his rights.

He also wasn't a hot commodity. At Cypress, he was 6-4 in 1991 and 7-4 in 1992, but had pitched little since.

Blyleven approached three clubs and got an offer from the Angels.

"I knew a lot of people with the team and the front office people are real nice," Blyleven said. "Besides, it's home. I might even get a chance to play in Anaheim some day."

He's off to a good start toward that dream.

He has a 3.00 earned-run average and has struck out 22 batters and walked only eight. Blyleven said he is pitching better now than he has ever before.

"It's really been kind of easy," Blyleven said. "I haven't had any struggles or tough times.

"I was kind of nervous the first time I pitched. I remember putting on the uniform and reading 'Angels' on my chest. I mean, I wake every morning and realize I'm playing for a professional team. I'm getting goose bumps right now just thinking about it."

The year away from baseball helped Blyleven realize how much he needed the sport. The only fix he got was an occasional outing for the scout team in Orange County.

He was itching to pitch when he got to Mesa.

"For a while, I took baseball for granted," Blyleven said. "Now every time I go out on the mound, I'm glad I'm out there. Sitting out a year helped me understand that this is what I want to do with my life."

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Like father, like son: Blyleven has also made some changes in his lifestyle since becoming a professional.

"I have to realize that this is a job," he said. "No drinking, no partying and you can't do stupid stuff. You have to be a professional, on and off the field."

Professional off the field? Does this guy know who his father is?

After all, Bert Blyleven was notorious for pranks, such as tossing a firecracker into a crowd. Is the baseball world ready for a serious Blyleven?

"Oh, we've had a few hot feet and a couple shaving-cream-in-a-towel incidents down here," Blyleven said.

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Innocence lost: Some of the most recent Orange County players to join the professional ranks are discovering a whole new ballgame.

Take catcher Jeff Carr.

Carr graduated from Mission Viejo in June and is playing for the Oakland A's rookie league team in Scottsdale. He's finding the game a bit more serious.

Back in high school, a little thing like bowling over the catcher was not only considered poor sportsmanship, but it was illegal. So, imagine Carr's surprise when he was waiting for a throw from the outfield in his first game.

"I was just looking for the ball and it arrived at the same time the runner did," Carr said. "I got nailed. I guess I knew that the rule was different, but I hadn't really thought about it until that moment."

Carr hung onto the ball and tagged the runner out.

Another quick learner was Ryan Jones, who graduated from Irvine in June.

Jones, a second-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, plays for Medicine Hat, a Class-A team. He had been there almost a week before playing.

"I wasn't expecting to play, but they sent me up as a pinch hitter," Jones said. "I fouled a couple off, then the guy blew one by me. One of my teammates yelled out to me, 'Welcome to the big leagues, kid.' "

Jones, who hit .466 last season for Irvine, had an answer a couple innings later. On his next at-bat, he hit an RBI double.

"Now that's a nice way to get started," Jones said.

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Home alone: Jones, Carr and others who have gone from high school to the minor leagues are also learning away from the ballpark as well.

"You have to fend for yourself," Carr said. "If you've got to be somewhere, you can't rely on someone else to take you. You don't have any guidance. No one is going to be there to do things for you."

Which can be good or, in Jones' case, bad.

He had been in Medicine Hat a little more than a week, then came down with chicken pox. He was out two weeks and had to basically nurse himself back to health.

Still, Jones was ready for the minor league experience. He had seen the training film.

"If you've seen Bull Durham, that gives you a pretty clear picture of how it is in the minor leagues," Jones said.

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