Scott Vollmer didn’t know it, but he had set up shop in the cubicle once occupied by a superstar.
Vollmer had barely taken his seat in the Birmingham (Ala.) Baron locker room when front office personnel began meandering through. They weren’t there to see Vollmer. They wanted to see “the guy” who inherited the locker last used by Michael Jordan.
“I just walked in and picked a locker,” said Vollmer, who played at Irvine High and Pepperdine. “About 10 minutes later this guy who worked in the general manager’s office came in and said, ‘Oh, you’re the guy who got Michael’s locker.’ ”
Birmingham, a double-A team for the Chicago White Sox, was the last stop in Jordan’s baseball career and the latest rung for Vollmer. Vollmer is a catcher trying to get noticed in a organization that has some doubts about him.
“I think everyone from the front office came by in the first hour,” Vollmer said. “It was kind of amusing.”
The laughs didn’t end there.
Vollmer made Sports Illustrated, not for the way he played but for the space he occupied.
“It was fun, but it’s all pretty much in the past now,” Vollmer said.
Vollmer is back to the business of proving he’s big-league material.
Vollmer was a 17th-round draft pick out of Pepperdine in 1993. He had helped the Waves win the national championship as a junior and was named to the all-College World Series team.
Scouts liked his abilities, but questioned his size. At 175 pounds, he did not seem to have the frame necessary to be a catcher.
Through his first two years as a pro, Vollmer has proved them wrong. He has handled the position and pitchers well and has hit.
Vollmer hit .274 with seven home runs and 81 runs batted in last year at Class-A Hickory (N.C.). He was named the organization’s player of the month in April, 1994, after opening the season with a 12-game hitting streak.
Success at the plate has been a little harder to find this season. He is hitting .226 as the Barons’ No. 2 catcher. He did break out recently against Memphis with a home run, double and three RBIs.
The size issue keeps dogging him though. Vollmer, who is 6 feet 1, beefed up to 192 before the season. He has since dropped to 180.
“I think, I’ve done a pretty good job catching on this level,” Vollmer said. “I’ve thrown out runners consistently and the pitchers tell me they like throwing to me. If your peers are saying you’re doing a good job, then you must be doing a good job.”
And, besides, Vollmer is hitting more than 20 points better than the last guy who had that locker.
Vollmer grinds away at the ballpark, but coming home at night has been a reward.
Kimi, his wife, and their 11-month-old daughter, Victoria, came to Birmingham with him this year.
A year ago, Vollmer missed the final two weeks of the season when he went back to Boise for Victoria’s birth. This year, they decided to stick together.
Kimi, who has a business degree from Pepperdine, quit her job as an accountant. She plans to work again in January, just in time for tax season. In the meantime, the Vollmers are enjoying baseball season.
“It’s so much easier to deal with right now,” Vollmer said. “We play day after day. Then I come home and I can spend my day off with my family.”
Sean Drinkwater’s luck remains consistent. Not that that’s a good thing.
After all, he tore up his knee at Cypress College celebrating a victory in the State championship game.
Drinkwater, a third baseman for the Memphis Chicks, has worked his way through the San Diego Padres’ organization and has patiently waited his turn this season. It appeared to come recently when Paul Russo, the Chicks’ starting third baseman, was promoted to triple-A Las Vegas.
Drinkwater, logically, was seen as the heir apparent. But the scenario didn’t play out. Instead of giving Drinkwater the job, the Padres dropped third baseman Julio Bruno from Las Vegas. Bruno was rated as the team’s No. 10 prospect and is still being given the opportunity to prove worthy of it.
So Drinkwater, who graduated from El Toro, is hitting .299 in limited action and is still waiting.
First baseman Jason Thompson, on the other hand, is getting lots of playing time with the Chicks. For the most part, he’s taking advantage of it.
Thompson, who graduated from Laguna Hills, is third in the league with 19 home runs and has 58 RBIs. He is hitting .267 despite a high strikeout ratio. Last season, he hit .361 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs at Class-A Rancho Cucamonga.
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Southern League Road Map
This is the league where Michael Jordan played while he was in the Chicago White Sox organization. But he’s not even the only two-sport player to spend some time in the Southern League. Bo Jackson, who ended his baseball career with the Angels, started it with the Memphis Chicks in 1986 before joining the Kansas City Royals.
When formed: 1964 as a double-A league
Angel connection: Future Angel reliever Dick Drago led the league in victories (15) and strikeouts (134) in 1967.
Learning the trade: The Reds’ farm team, playing in Ashville, N.C., in 1967, won the league title in 1968. The manager: Sparky Anderson.
More Angels: Pitching for Charlotte in 1989, Shawn Boskie led the league in strikeouts with 164.
Team Locations Here’s a look at the teams and their major league affiliates:
A. Birmingham, Ala. (Chicago White Sox)
B. Carolina (Pittsburgh Pirates)
C. Chattanooga, Tenn. (Cincinnati Reds)
D. Greenville, N.C. (Atlanta Braves)
E. Huntsville, Ala. (Oakland Athletics)
F. Jacksonville, Fla. (Detroit Tigers)
G. Knoxville, Tenn. (Toronto Blue Jays)
H. Memphis, Tenn. (San Diego Padres)
I. Orlando, Fla. (Chicago Cubs)
Source: League records