Dodgers’ Jerry Sands finds there’s no substitute for experience


Second in a series on minor league call-ups who have helped fuel the Dodgers’ early-season surge.

Students have long pegged substitute teachers for saps, powerless figureheads who reign with kid gloves rather than an iron fist. A “sub” means “fun,” the tradition goes.

Well aware of this perception, Jerry Sands lays out the ground rules before they try to walk all over him.

“Hey guys, I might look old, but I was here a few years ago,” the 24-year-old will tell students when he fills in as a substitute teacher near his hometown in Smithfield, N.C. “I know a lot of the tricks, so don’t even try them.”

But he’ll also offer an incentive:

“If you get your work done,” he’ll say, “I’ll give you an autograph at the end of class.”

That’s a ploy few others could use in that situation, but as an outfielder/first baseman for the Dodgers, and one of the unlikely cogs in their early-season surge, Sands can.

“It’s pretty easy,” Sands said of the job he’s had for a few off-seasons. “I can start getting into some baseball stories if they get out of hand.”

It might seem like an odd part-time gig, but Sands, who was drafted by the Dodgers in the 25th round in 2008, needed something to help pay bills in the off-season when he started out in the minor leagues.

Substitute teaching was ideal: a flexible schedule, 8-to-3 workdays, weekends off. The pay was low — about $70 a day, far short of the minimum wage in the major leagues ($480,000) — but he enjoyed it.

“I wanted to work with the kids instead of going and sitting behind a desk and doing something I wouldn’t enjoy,” he said.

He has taught about 100 days, sixth grade through 12th, usually up to 30 students in a classroom, on a variety of subjects — he enjoys math the most — at Corinth Holders High, Archer Lodge Middle School and Smithfield Selma High, of which he is an alumnus.

He’d even work out with the varsity baseball teams, from time to time.

“It kind of got me in shape and I could give back to them,” he said.

In 2010, Sands was named the Dodgers’ minor league player of the year after hitting a combined 35 home runs with low-A Great Lakes and double-A Chattanooga. He hit 29 home runs last season for triple-A Albuquerque and also hit .250 with four home runs and 25 runs batted in in 61 games with the Dodgers.

This season Sands is batting .200 with one RBI in 20 at-bats with the Dodgers.

He said he’s trying to find a more consistent swing.

“He looks a lot more comfortable than in spring training,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s been a lot more solid with his at-bats.”

Sands said some of his teammates know about his substitute teaching.

“Most of them were wondering why I’m still doing it,” he said, adding that he might continue to do it in the future.

But during spring training this year, the Johnston County School District in North Carolina rang to see if Sands was available.

He was busy. His “other job” was in session.