Omar Malave opened the season in the Class-A California League, but already he is thinking like a major leaguer.
The 22-year old native of Venezuela pondered before he performed on two key occasions, and the results helped the Ventura County Gulls to a 3-2 comeback victory over the Reno Padres on opening day Friday before 1,465 at Ventura College.
The Gulls trailed, 2-0, in the seventh inning with two outs and Eric Yelding on first when Malave drove a triple to right-center field. Rob Ducey then singled home Malave with the tying run.
It was in the on-deck circle though, that Malave visualized the extra-base hit.
"The only way to score a runner in that situation is to drive the ball for extra bases," Malave said. "I was trying to hit a gapper."
Another Malave musing kept the Padres from regaining the lead in the eighth.
After Roberto Alomar had advanced to third with one out, Jerald Clark smacked a hard ground ball down the third-base line. Malave made a back-hand stab, straightened, then threw home in time to nail Alomar. The play was close enough for Padre Manager Jim Skaalen to question the call. Had Malave hesitated at all, Alomar would have been safe.
"Before the pitch was made," Malave said, "I told myself that if the ball was hit down the line, I was going home with it."
Instinct like that isn't easily taught. And it is a welcome surprise in Class-A competition, according to Gulls Manager Glenn Ezell.
"Omar will be a steadying influence on the club," Ezell said. "He has instincts I hope they all acquire."
Malave has something else not all the Gulls yet possess--a home.
While most of the players are staying at a hotel until they can find permanent living quarters, Malave has been taken in by Mike Cook and his family of four.
"We saw in an ad that players need homes for the season and decided to take one in," Cook said. "We're looking forward to having Omar."
The rest of the Gulls hope to be as fortunate in their search for housing as they were in the game. Yelding had reached base before Malave's triple on an error by second baseman Alomar, and the winning run was scored courtesy of Padre lapses.
Ken Kinnard, the Gulls fleet center fielder, blooped a double down the left-field line with one out in the eighth. Clark, the Padre left fielder, threw wildly past second and Kinnard came around to score when right fielder Scott Parsons failed to back up the play.
Perhaps Parsons was daydreaming about his first at-bat. He drove a Todd Stottlemyre fastball over the left-field fence in the second inning for the game's first run. Stottlemyre, who was making his professional debut, began the game by striking out the first four hitters before Parsons took him deep.
Said Stottlemyre: "I felt strong, so when the count reached 3-1, I decided to challenge him."
Reno scored again in the third when Alomar scored Greg Hall with a chopping ground out to first. Hall had walked, stole second and advanced to third on a single by Pablo Rivera.
Stottlemyre settled down and struck out eight in six complete innings. The 20-year old right-hander allowed only two hits and two walks.
Although he gave up two hits and a walk in two innings, Tom Wasilewski (1-0) held the Padres scoreless in the seventh and eighth to record the win. Zach Paris retired the side in order in the ninth to pick up a save.
The Gulls outhit the Padres, 8 to 4, but left eight men on base in the first seven innings. . . . Gulls left fielder Darryl Landrum singled twice, was hit by a pitch and lined out hard to short. . . . Padre starting pitcher Jeff Stewart threw six shutout innings before giving way to Pete Kutsukos and Scott Marsh, who took the loss. "Jeff had a good, sharp curveball," Padre Manager Jim Skaalen said. . . . The Gulls made no errors. . . . A 30-minute, opening day ceremony preceded the game. Among the speakers were California League President Joe Gagliardi and Toronto Blue Jays Vice President Pat Gillick. "We are pleased to have joined the California League," Gillick said. "It is conducive to player development." . . . The first-ever opening day in the California League was April 18, 1941, when the Santa Barbara Saints played host to the Anaheim Aces. Santa Barbara was a Brooklyn Dodgers farm club managed by former Dodgers first baseman Bud Clancy. The first pitch was caught by Stan Wasiak, who was honored last year for having won more games as a minor league manager than anyone in baseball history. The league's first home run was hit by Anaheim's John Scolinos, who is currently in his 39th year as a college coach and 26th year at Cal Poly Pomona. . . . Today's game begins at 11 a.m with Gull left-hander Jeff Musselman facing Padre left-hander Eric Bauer.