Few folks are as surly as baseball players sent from the majors to the minors. The bad food, bad lodging and bad buses of the bushes don't make for good humor--especially when a guy has grown accustomed to major league amenities.
Kurt Stillwell wasn't pleased when he was demoted last week from the Cincinnati Reds to the team's Triple-A affiliate in Denver after he started the season as the youngest player in the National League. But the 21-year-old will calmly discuss the reasons. A response from Stillwell is rarely curt.
"I was very disappointed," Stillwell said. "It's the first time in my life I've been sent down anywhere. I had a good frame of mind but just wasn't getting the hits."
Stillwell was 18 for 102 (.176) with the Reds, but many of the at-bats came in pinch-hitting roles late in games against top relievers. Reds Manager Pete Rose admitted that those are not ideal conditions in which to break in a rookie.
"Pinch-hitting is a difficult role for a young player," Rose said. "One of the problems, if you can call it that, is how well Dave Concepcion has played. It's been hard for me to get Kurt in the lineup. Obviously, Kurt needs some seasoning hitting-wise. He lost some confidence with the bat, but I'll say this, he never lost his poise defensively."
Stillwell, a shortstop who was the Reds' top draft pick in June, 1983, out of Thousand Oaks High, made only two errors with Cincinnati.
Rose does not believe he was in error in keeping Stillwell to begin the season. And the shortstop is certain Denver will be a short stop.
"Pete's stayed with me," Stillwell said. "He told me there is nothing to worry about and not to unpack all of my belongings. I'll be back up when the rosters expand in September."
Meanwhile, Stillwell, a switch-hitter, will pile up the at-bats and try to smooth out a slight uppercut in his swing from the left side. He was 3-for-8 in his first two games with Denver.
"I've always had an uppercut and was able to get away with it," he said. "But big league pitchers know how to pitch to that kind of swing and big league catchers know what to call. I probably only saw five fastballs my last 20 at-bats."
All Stillwell needs to do is make his swing as level as his head.
"I'll keep my head up and get back to Cincinnati," he said brightly.
Stillwell's disappointment at being demoted was lessened by the opportunity to visit with his best friend, Roger Hansen, who plays for the Kansas City Royals' Triple-A affiliate in Omaha. Denver played at Omaha earlier this week.
"We visited after every game," Stillwell said. "He picked up my spirits.
Hansen, whose father, Jim, is baseball coach at Thousand Oaks High, played at Rio Mesa High. He splits time at catcher in Omaha and is batting .268.
"Roger's hitting the ball well but his arm is sore," Stillwell said. "That's what's holding him back. He threw two of our runners out, though, and he threw me out, but the umpire called me safe."
Stillwell said he and Hansen laughed about the play following the game. But baseball wasn't the only topic they discussed.
"We go fishing together during the off-season, so we planned our trip," Stillwell said.