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Ex-Titans Looking to Stand Tall in Plains

TIMES STAFF WRITER

This isn’t exactly a garden spot. The wind whips in off the prairie in gritty gusts, and the temperature this time of the year exceeds 100. The humidity hovers and clings.

Here, the locals are certain to tell California visitors, you can see “Twister” and save the $6.50.

But this is home for two former Cal State Fullerton baseball players, Steve Sisco and Jeremy Carr. At least for a while. They’re teammates on the Wichita Wranglers, the Kansas City Royals’ double-A team.

Four years ago, they were teammates on a Titan team that finished second to Pepperdine in the College World Series. “Just one run away,” Sisco says, recalling the game the Titans lost, 3-2.

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But this is not Omaha or Rosenblatt Stadium, home of the Royals’ triple-A franchise. And it’s certainly a long way from Kansas City.

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, where the National Baseball Congress tournament is held each year, looks crisp with fresh paint, and the outfield grass is as green as the weather will allow.

The concrete-block clubhouse, however, has a typically tired minor-league look, with an overstuffed couch in the center of the room and a gasping air conditioner.

No offense to Wichita, but Sisco and Carr hope they’re not here for very long.

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Sisco made it to Omaha for seven games late last season, but after hitting .208 with eight strikeouts in 24 times at bat, he found himself back in Wichita for the 1996 season.

This is Carr’s first season in double A. He was third in the California League and eighth in the minors last season when he stole 52 bases for Bakersfield. He hit .257.

For Sisco, this is the first year since he was drafted in the 16th round by the Royals in 1992 that he hasn’t moved up.

“I’m hoping this will be the year I can play a full season and make an impact,” Sisco said. His last two seasons have been troubled by injuries.

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Sisco was hitting .306 with 21 runs batted in last June when he was asked to move from his normal second base position to play the outfield. But in that game, he went back chasing a home run and crashed into the right field wall at full speed, breaking his ankle.

He didn’t return until the final month of the season, but still hit .301 and played well enough defensively to earn the September promotion.

At times, Sisco considers himself fortunate to be playing at all.

Two years ago, he was in a snowmobile accident in Ohio at the home of his wife to be, former Titan gymnast Karena Mills. The snowmobile skidded on a patch of ice on his final ride of the day, and rolled into a drainage ditch. Sisco was knocked unconscious, and wound up with a broken arm among other injuries. He was wearing a helmet, and that might have saved his life.

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“It happened in December, and I didn’t get back playing again until about two months into the season,” Sisco said. “But I think that accident did make me think a lot about setting my priorities. It gave me more drive and more intensity about playing baseball. I thought a lot about how it could have ended the life I was living.”

Sisco, who played at Thousand Oaks High, hit .274 in 76 games with Wilmington, Del., the Royals’ top Class A team, in 1994, and moved up to Wichita for the start of the 1995 season.

In 41 games this year, he’s hitting .277 with 21 RBIs. “This year I’ve been in more of a utility role,” Sisco said. “I’ve played first base, second, third and left field, and I’ve DH’d some too. They can’t say I’m not versatile, but I think that will help me in the long run. I think they’re looking at me at several positions this year to see where I might fit in later on.”

Sisco is in his fifth season in the pros.

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Carr is beginning his fourth. He played the 1993 season at Fullerton, then the short-season rookie league that summer at Eugene, Ore. In 1994, he was at Rockford, Ill., in the Midwest League before moving up to Bakersfield last year.

Carr has been playing at second base as well as in the outfield this season for the Wranglers. He’s hitting .310 in 45 games and leads the team in stolen bases with nine.

“I had a great April, but I slowed down in May,” Carr said. “For a while I was wondering how long I could keep going so well, but about that time I had a couple 0-for days, and it changed. Baseball can be weird like that.

“Even though I’ve been struggling a little lately, I know it can change for the better again just as quickly. I just have to keep my confidence up and stay within myself.”

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Carr, who played at El Segundo High, is pleased he was promoted to Wichita this season. “They could have kept me in A ball another season,” Carr said. “I enjoyed playing at Bakersfield and it was good to be close to home with me getting married last September.” Carr’s wife, Marlo, is a secretary in the Fullerton athletic department.

Bob Hegman, the Royals’ director of minor league operations, said both players are progressing about as expected.

“We’ve had good success with Fullerton players,” Hegman said. “They’re both gamer kind of players, the type who make the people around them better. Neither of them are break-the-door players from a pure tool standpoint, although Jeremy has good speed, but they’re both the kind of players you like to have in your organization.

“You never know about the future, but we think they can continue to progress.”

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