Baseball: From Hap Minor to Freddy Sanchez

JEFF TULLY

When it comes to watching baseball players run, hit and throw

their way to success, forget about taking in any major league

baseball games this weekend.

Instead, if you want to see players taking part in the sport just

for the fun of it, head to Olive Park this morning. Starting at about

9:30, the best players the Burbank Park, Recreation and Community

Services Department leagues has to offer will be taking part in the

47th annual Hap Minor Baseball Civitan Day Jamboree.

With a parade that begins at 8:30 at Mervyn's in the Media City

Center Mall, the players will wind their way to Olive Park for an

end-of-the year skills competition. The competition involves

baserunning, hitting and throwing events, and the day is capped with

food, refreshments and a lot of awards.

Following in their counterparts' footsteps, the city's softball

players will hit Olive Park July 20th for their own event. The

athletes will take part in the annual Ponytail Softball Jamboree --

sponsored by the Foothill Civitan Club -- where the players will get

a chance to show their stuff in their own skills competition.

With the Hap Minor leagues, this is baseball at its purest. These

players compete in the Park and Rec leagues for the simple fun of the

game and the joy of just taking part. They are a world away from the

over-paid, coddled, money-hungry athletes who have helped infect

major league baseball.

With these youth players, there are no steroids, no big-money

contracts and you bet there won't be a strike prior to the

festivities.

It's unfortunate these players have such poor baseball role models

and have to follow a professional game that is hemorrhaging badly

from recent problems and scandals.

There is no fun and no redeeming value that can be derived from a

game that threatens to be passed up in popularity by NASCAR (parish

the thought).

But professional baseball has been its own executioner. With

strike threats, players accused of everything from using illegal

substances to being gay, home runs cranked out of parks at a fever

pace, and teams facing extinction because of revenue problems, the

game is in big trouble.

And if that isn't enough, the game suffered another black eye

Tuesday at the 73rd All-Star game at Milwaukee's Miller Park. With

the game between the National and American leagues tied at 7 after 11

innings, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig instructed umpires to end

the contest when both teams ran out of pitchers.

The All-Star contest is supposed to be the sport's mid-summer

showcase, an event to highlight the best athletes the game has to

offer. Instead, it just demonstrated what a quagmire professional

baseball has become and why many fans are leaving the sport in

droves.

If something isn't done to save the sport, we may be hearing the

death knoll of professional baseball as we know it.

*

Freddy Sanchez has never been known as a home-run hitter. From his

times as a successful baseball player at Burbank High and Glendale

Community College, to his two-plus seasons in the minor leagues,

Sanchez has enjoyed only an occasional power serge.

However, Wednesday, Sanchez -- who plays for the Trenton Thunder

in the Boston Red Sox organization -- proved he does have some pop in

his bat at the Double A All-Star Game at Dodd Stadium in Norwich,

Conn.

Playing for the American League-affiliated all-stars against the

National League team, Sanchez opened the scoring in the first inning

with a towering home run. The solo shot off of Reading right-hander

Ryan Madson blasted off a third-tear billboard in left-center field.

Sanchez had just two home runs this season. He added a third in a

game Thursday.

Starting at shortstop, Sanchez went one for two to help the

American League to an 11-2 win in front of a crowd of 8,009.

A former Foothill League Player of the Year at Burbank, Sanchez is

enjoying a fine season with Trenton. Last month, he had a 27-game

hitting streak and he is batting .323 with 96 hits, 56 runs scored,

34 runs batted in, 34 walks, 22 doubles and 18 stolen bases.

He has also reached base by hit or walk 36 straight games and has

hit safely in 40 of 43 straight games.

As the Red Sox prepare for a run at the playoffs, Sanchez could

prove to be a valuable commodity for the club. If Boston doesn't

bring him up, Sanchez could also be prime trade-bait for a team in

need of a quality consistent player.

Said Josh Goldfine of Sports Ticker Insider Report: "Trenton

middle infielder Freddy Sanchez is the only position player who could

bring anything of significant value in a trade. Sanchez ... is a pure

hitter whose ability to put the ball in play and do the 'little

things' may make him valuable to many teams in a rebuilding process."

If he is brought up when teams expend their rosters in September,

or if he's traded, it looks like Sanchez has a long, successful

career in front of him.

And come to think of it, Freddy Sanchez -- a local product with

many local ties -- could just turn out to be a new breed of role

models that our young players can look up to. Heaven knows they need

something positive to emulate.

* JEFF TULLY is the sports editor of the Burbank Leader. He can be

reached at 843-8700, or by e-mail at jeff.tully@latimes.com.

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