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No Clowning Around : Cline, Fiacco and Hankins Help Make UCLA Baseball Team a Serious Contender

March 17, 1988|STEVEN FLEISCHMAN

When the UCLA baseball team goes through workouts, drills to hone technique are supplemented with healthy doses of horseplay.

Kirk Gibson might not last a day with the Bruins, a team which historically has players who enjoy the lighter and funnier side of baseball.

On occasion, Hawaiian-style shorts have been worn in the place of baseball pants and liquid heat has found its way into a player's hat. Still, UCLA wins. Perhaps because the Bruins have enough players who know there is a difference between play-time and time to play.

Charlie Fiacco, Scott Cline and Mike Hankins are three such players.

Fiacco and Cline were teammates at Camarillo High. Hankins is a Simi Valley High graduate. Coach Gary Adams of UCLA describes all three as "hard-working, All-American kids."

"You're talking about three kids who love to work hard," Adams said. "They're all made from the same mold."

Fiacco and Cline both signed with the Bruins in 1985. And the similarities don't end there.

They were placed at the same position--third base.

After their freshman season, Fiacco moved to the outfield.

As freshmen, Fiacco and Cline shared a dormitory room and were also roommates on road trips.

They still share a Westwood apartment with two other students. But when the Bruins go on a road trip, they part company.

"We hang out together on the road but I think he's going to room with Eric Karros. We see each other every day so there's a little break on the road," Fiacco said. "My freshman year we did everything together."

Fiacco, a junior, has made a big impact for UCLA this season. He is batting .288 and leads the team with nine home runs and is second with 26 runs batted in.

"He's taken off from where he left off last season, except he's hitting more home runs," Adams said.

As a sophomore, Fiacco batted .330, with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs and was selected to the Pacific-10 Conference's All-Southern Division team.

"I know the teams and how they're going to pitch me," Fiacco said. "I've been trying not to do too much at the plate. I'm in a groove right now. Sometimes you get in a groove and just hit the ball out. If I'm lucky, now, I'll only see two or three fastballs a game. I have to sit back and wait."

In a three-game series against Stanford two weeks ago he wasn't able to do it. The Cardinal, as expected, threw him off-speed pitches and Fiacco went 0-for-10.

Despite the poor outings, Fiacco has emerged as prospect for the professional baseball draft in June.

"He'll definitely be drafted," one major league scout said. "How high depends on how scouts feel how able he'll be able to hit major league pitching. He's a solid defensive player, with average speed."

Fiacco, however, remains noncommittal about his future.

"I've thought about it. If it happens I'll be glad to sign, but you never know in the draft," Fiacco said. "Some people you never think would be drafted get drafted, and people you think would get drafted, don't. I'm just going to wait until draft day."

Cline was forced to have knee last season, but despite that and an early-season slump this season, he, too, has emerged as a pro prospect.

He certainly has the athletic ability. As a high school senior, Cline played quarterback on a Camarillo team that won a Southern Section 4-A championship.

Cline is batting only .258, but has four home runs and 23 RBIs.

"I've been struggling a bit. I'll get going, I feel good at the plate," Cline said. "A couple 3-for-4 games, I'm at .300."

Said Adams: "I don't think he'll be struggling too long. Good hitters go into slumps. If he was lazy, then he might not come out of it, but he's not that way."

Cline was hopeful that the groove he was in at the end of last season would carry over.

After a lay-off of five weeks following arthroscopic surgery, Cline went 28-for-62 (.451) the rest of the season including a 10-game hitting streak, during which he batted .486 (18-for-37).

During postseason play, in which the Bruins advanced to the finals of the National Collegiate Athletic Association West II Regionals, Cline batted .500 (9-for-18) and was named to the All-Tournament team.

Hankins, the Bruins' starting shortstop, is off to a start that should be rated somewhere in between Fiacco's banner season and Cline's disappointing one.

He is batting only .245, but he's had his moments. Against Cal State Northridge, he had two home runs.

Most of Hankins' highlights have come in the field, where has only one error in 100 chances.

"I think Mike has the best hands of any of our infielders," Adams said. "He can play defense with any one in the conference."

Said Hankins: "Defense is the main thing. It's my pride and joy."

He also is put on the defensive all too often by Cline and Fiacco, who played against him in the Marmonte League.

"We give Mike a hard time about our senior year, his junior year," Cline said. "They were ranked No. 1 in the nation, but were No. 2 in the Marmonte League after we beat them."

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