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Some Gulls Still Make a Flap : Former Ventura County Players Break Into the Big Leagues

August 11, 1988|TIM BROWN | Times Staff Writer

Todd Stottlemyre meant it as a compliment.


"In a sense," he said, "it was baseball the old-fashioned way. It was like sandlot baseball."

Stottlemyre, a long way from sandlot ball in his Toronto Blue Jays' uniform and reclined in the visitors' dugout at Anaheim Stadium, reminisced about the 1986 Ventura County Gulls, their stadium and their fans.

It was a season without lights, without beer and, finally, without a refrain.

The boys and Gulls of summer, one of whom was Stottlemyre, lasted but one year. Owners Ken McMullen, Jim Biby and Jim Colborn were unable to secure a site for a new stadium, and the Gulls, a member of the Class-A California League, were eventually sold to a group from San Bernardino, where they became the Spirit.

"I got my start there," Stottlemyre said of the Gulls. "And that's something I'll always have, regardless of whether they have a Blue Jay team there or not.

"It was two months of the most fun I've had playing the game of baseball."

Stottlemyre's former and current teammates seem to share his affinity for the summer on the Gold Coast.

Rob Ducey, recently called up from Toronto's triple-A affiliate in Syracuse to replace injured outfielder Lloyd Moseby, often reverts to his days as an aggressive outfielder in Ventura.

"Oh, jeez, I think about Ventura all the time," he said. "Whenever I'm not swinging too good, I think about that time, because it was my best year. I think about my approach at the plate.

"I had a great time in Ventura. That was one of the best years I had in pro ball. The best year. I wish I could go back say 'hi' to all those people back there."

The game, however, becomes increasingly intricate as a player ventures beyond the Class-A level.

Ducey, who spent some time on the Toronto roster last season, was hitless in 13 at-bats since being recalled until going 2 for 4 Tuesday. His record 3-8 and his control gone awry, Stottlemyre returned to Syracuse on July 27 to regain his confidence and his control. He is also developing a slider.

"It's temporary," Stottlemyre insisted when reached in Syracuse. "Nobody likes to go down, but I look at it as a positive for me. Pitching down here has allowed me to concentrate from pitch to pitch without all of the pressure. I really think I've reacquired my confidence."

After pitching well for the Blue Jays early in the season, left-hander David Wells stumbled back to the minor leagues at the All-Star break with a 4.40 earned-run average and a tired arm. The former Gull has pitched one-third of an inning since.

Shortstop Eric Yelding and outfielder Geronimo Berroa, despite solid seasons with Syracuse, have yet to see Toronto in the summertime. Yelding and Berroa started for the American Assn. in this year's first triple-A all-star game in Buffalo.

Left-handed hitting catcher Greg Myers was called up by the Blue Jays when rosters were expanded last September and is the heir apparent to Ernie Whitt, who is 36. Myers, however, injured his shoulder in Syracuse earlier this season and has been sent home to Riverside after playing in only 34 games. He will not play again this year.

Right-handed curveball artist Jose Mesa, who signed with the Blue Jays as a 15-year-old pitcher out of the Dominican Republic, was sent to the Baltimore Orioles in an off-season trade for veteran pitcher Mike Flanagan. Mesa was demoted to Rochester, the Orioles' triple-A club, the day before Baltimore began its season, sparing him their 0-21 streak.

Of the former Gulls, only left-handed pitcher Jeff Musselman is contributing consistently for the Blue Jays. His victory Monday, in which he held the Kansas City Royals to 3 hits and 1 run in 7 innings, improved his record to 4-1. Musselman was 12-5 as a rookie last season.

"What I remember about A-ball is the guys that do well that continue through the organization and you keep seeing them at the different levels," Musselman said. "That team, as a whole, has had a lot of players do really well."

And then there is Glenn Ezell, the manager of the Gulls. Ezell went from Ventura to Knoxville, a Blue Jays' double-A affiliate, and then out the door at the end of the 1987 season.

"You never want to be fired," Ezell said, "but I think I came into a real good situation."

Ezell was hired by the Royals' organization, where he has managed the triple-A Omaha Royals to a 5 1/2-game lead over Iowa in the Western Division of the American Assn. Ezell, however, has not forgotten his season or players in Ventura. Syracuse, of the International League, was in Omaha for a weekend series earlier this season. Ezell took special interest in Ducey, who was struggling at the time.

"He told me what I was doing wrong, after the series was over and he knew we wouldn't play against him the rest of the year," Ducey said, laughing. "He had seen me at my best and was making a personal observation. He said I wasn't aggressive enough at the plate. From that point on, I hit over .300."

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