Midland isn't a place most people yearn to be in the middle of the summer. The town in Texas is nothing but a hot, dry Dullsville. All that's cooking is the concrete and the only things dancing are tumbleweeds.
As far as Ty Van Burkleo is concerned, though, Midland is where the action is. It's the home of the California Angels Double-A affiliate, and he'd like to move there in the worst way.
Van Burkleo, 22, plays first base for the Angels' Class-A team in Palm Springs and believes he is performing well enough to be promoted.
The left-handed power hitter has made believers of opposing pitchers by pounding out 18 home runs and 82 runs batted in to go with a .296 batting average.
"He just seems to hit well no matter who is on the hill," said Jeff Musselman, a pitcher on the Ventura County Gulls who leads the league in strikeouts.
And Van Burkleo has made believers of the managers of California League teams, who voted him the Southern Division's starting first baseman in Thursday's all-star game in Fresno. He was 3 for 3 in the game with two triples.
"Ty has been our best clutch hitter," said Palm Springs Manager Tom Kotchman, whose team was first-half champion of the Southern Division.
Now, Van Burkleo, who graduated from Chatsworth High in 1981, has to convince the Angels front office.
"I feel I should be able to prove myself in Double-A," Van Burkleo said. "They tell me they think I'm a prospect and still I haven't gone up. You can't really try to figure out what's going on in the front office. It'll drive you crazy."
Van Burkleo's frustration is compounded by the knowledge that two other Palm Springs Angels recently promoted to the Double-A club are playing well. After two weeks at Midland, Pete Coachman is batting .360, and Dante Bichette is batting .320 with three home runs and nine RBIs.
"It's no surprise to me that they're doing well," Van Burkleo said. "I'd be doing the same thing. And if you have a good year in Double-A, you get a shot at the big leagues."
Another problem confronts Van Burkleo: there is a logjam of first basemen in the Angels organization. With Wally Joyner having dibs on first base in Anaheim for, oh, the remainder of the century, maybe a trade would be best for Van Burkleo.
"Wally's definitely a fixture," Van Burkleo said. "I'll just keep playing and hope I impress someone. Discounting the Angels and Brewers, there are 24 other teams."
Milwaukee is low on Van Burkleo's list because the Brewers released him 1984 after he bounced around their organization for three years. Signed in January, 1982, he hit 22 home runs for Beloit, Wis., that year and was assigned to Stockton in 1983, where he batted barely better than .200.
"I was atrocious my first time through the California League," Van Burkleo said candidly.
He was again assigned to Stockton in 1984 but was released on June 26. The Angels signed him later that summer and he batted .320 for Class-A Peoria, Ill., during the season's last month.
Rohnert Park was the next stop for Van Burkleo. The team, the Redwood Pioneers, is now the Palm Spring Angels. Van Burkleo batted .276 with 10 home runs in 1985 after not really playing until mid-season.
"I sat for 16 straight games then went 3 for 5 with a home run in my first start," Van Burkleo said. "I earned the right to play the next day and had a good climb after a 4 for 49 start. 'Kotch' saw some promise."
Kotchman, who has coached Van Burkleo for two seasons, made an adjustment in Van Burkleo's swing that improved the hitter's power.
"He got me closer to the plate and opened my stance so I could turn on the ball more," Van Burkleo said. "Now it feels pretty good."
The manager, who has benefited most from Van Burkleo's power boost, would be pleased to lose him to Midland.
"Ty might have been labeled as a released player for a while," Kotchman said. "Now, he's shed that by turning into maybe the best hitter in the league. I sincerely hope he gets a shot at the big leagues."
Van Burkleo, who is married and has a seven-month-old daughter, plans on giving himself as long as it takes.
"I love playing baseball and haven't given up on myself," he said. "When somebody comes and takes the costume away is when I'll give it up. I think I'm going to the big leagues and I've got to keep believing that."
A three-way Ty: Van Burkleo is one of three players named Ty who are vying for the California League home runs and RBI titles.
Tyler Brilinski of Modesto leads the league with 19 home runs, followed by Van Burkleo with 18. Ty Dabney of Fresno is tied for fifth with 14 home runs and leads the league with 87 RBIs. Van Burkleo is second with 82 and Brilinski is fourth with 67.
Tying into the ball: Dabney, who is batting .340, was named the California League's Player of the Month for June by a balloting of the league's managers. The third baseman batted .406 with 7 home runs and 28 RBIs in 27 games.
Dabney, 23, was San Francisco's 13th selection in the June, 1985, free agent draft. He was selected to the 1985 NCAA Division II All-American team while at UC Riverside.
Gull flop: Although the South whipped the North, 10-1, in the all-star game, the five representatives from the Ventura County Gulls did not do much damage. Greg Myers, Geronimo Berroa, Luis Reyna and Eric Yelding were a combined 1 for 8, and Jeff Musselman did not pitch. Berroa, who started in left field, had the only hit.
Hostile Ports: The Stockton Ports set California League records for total bases and triples in their 20-7 rout of the Gulls on July 11. The Ports had 46 total bases, one more than the previous high set by Visalia in 1957, and six triples, one more than the record established by Stockton in 1946.
Third baseman Sandy Guerrero, a former Gull, had two of the triples.