What More Can He Do? : UCLA's DeCinces Still Trying to Make Big League Teams Take Notice

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tim DeCinces, a baseball brat and proud of it, couldn't believe what was happening. Or what wasn't.

The call did not come. Elsewhere last June, baseball players--many without DeCinces-type numbers--were getting their draft notices. Major league organizations were in full swing, collecting players through the June amateur draft's 87 rounds.

DeCinces, UCLA catcher and son of former Angel third baseman Doug DeCinces, felt he was ready. After three years of work, he had reached a point where that long-anticipated professional career seemed at hand. But the phone did not ring.

"Actually, on the outside, my parents were more upset," DeCinces said. "My dad kept saying, 'I can't believe this. This is unbelievable.' At one point, I was consoling him. But that was on the outside. Inside, I was just as upset."

How could he not be?

Baseball has always beckoned DeCinces. It has been a self-chosen career, from the time he was a little kid mingling with major leaguers in the clubhouse and wandering the outfield wearing a catcher's mask during batting practice.

Being asked back hasn't been easy.

No one, not even DeCinces, thought he was ready when he graduated from Corona del Mar High in 1993. But after endless hours of work, DeCinces was set to begin the next phase of his dream. The call didn't come.

"It was par for the course," DeCinces said. "No one has ever wanted me. I wasn't drafted out of high school. [UCLA's] Gary Adams was the only college coach who was willing to take a chance on me. I came here and performed. I was surprised when no one drafted me. It's par for the course."

There was nothing to do but go back to work. He spent the summer showing off his skills in the Cape Cod League, then returned to school.

DeCinces is coming off a rough weekend. He was 0 for 11 during a three-game weekend series against Arizona. The Bruins, ranked 10th by Baseball America and 15th by Collegiate Baseball this week, lost two games in Arizona, dropping a half-game behind first-place USC in the Pac-10 Southern Division standings. They play tonight at No. 1-ranked Cal State Fullerton.

DeCinces' average dipped to .264. He has two home runs, nine doubles and 13 runs batted in. But those numbers will improve. They have to, because June is coming. The goal remains the same, it just has taken a little more time.

"We were flying to Baltimore when Tim was 2. He stood up on his seat, turned his hat around and said, 'Look at me, I'm [former Oakland and Baltimore catcher] Dave Duncan,' " said Kristi DeCinces, his mother. "Ever since then he's wanted to be a pro player."

It was hard not to come up with that plan.

"When he was younger, I would put a catcher's mask on him and let him shag flies in the outfield," Doug DeCinces said. "I just didn't want him to take a ball in the face."

Said Tim DeCinces: "I wouldn't take that mask off, even when we traveled on planes."

DeCinces devoured every bit of information available. He would talk with Bob Boone about catching, just as Aaron Boone--now an infielder in the Cincinnati Reds' organization--would seek advice from Doug DeCinces.

"Tim wouldn't just ask why we won or lost, he asked specific questions," DeCinces said. "He would sit behind home plate at Anaheim Stadium and rush back after the game to ask things. 'Why did you pitch that guy there?' Or, 'Why did Gene Mauch change pitchers?' "

Said Tim DeCinces: "I knew better than to ask Gene that. So I asked my dad or Bob."

But it takes more to be a professional baseball player than being the MVP of the Orioles' father-son game at age 3. And people have been skeptical.

DeCinces hit .443 with five home runs and 32 RBIs as a senior at Corona del Mar. No one, except Adams, seemed very impressed.

"When you have a father who played in the major leagues, instantly people expect you to have God-given tools," Tim DeCinces said.

DeCinces, now a trim 6 feet 2, 195 pounds, didn't. He has tried to correct every perceived flaw.

The kid has no power.

DeCinces hit 13 home runs last season and is two doubles shy of tying the school record (49). He hit two home runs, including a grand slam, to lead the Cotuit Kettleers to the Cape Cod League championship last summer.

Last month against Cal State Fullerton, DeCinces launched a home run that tied the score, 9-9.

The kid doesn't have the arm.

DeCinces threw out 44% of the base stealers, tops in the Cape Cod League last summer. In one game, Scott Sollman, a wide receiver and punt returner at Notre Dame, was sent in as a pinch runner.

"There were two outs in the ninth and we were up by a run," Cotuit Manager Mike Coutts said. "They were certainly going to challenge Tim. Sollman went on the first pitch. It wasn't even close."

The kid can't handle pitchers.

DeCinces calls pitches during games, a rarity among college catchers. Coutts even relied on him to help with pitching changes. In the semifinals, DeCinces ended up convincing Coutts that Ryan Lynch, a UCLA teammate, had enough left to finish.

"He met me halfway to the mound and said, 'His stuff is OK,' " Coutts said. "I trusted Tim. It was the seventh and Ryan ended up going the distance in a 1-0 game."

So what's not to like?

"Every since I started playing, I knew what I wanted to do," DeCinces said. "There have always been people who said I couldn't do it. It baffled me last June. Baseball America had projected me as a fifth- to 15th-round pick.

"Every time I put on the uniform, I'm driven to prove people wrong."

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