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OUT OF NOWHERE : After Some Detours, Eric Anthony May Fulfill His Promise With the Astros

August 02, 1989|JIM LINDGREN

Eric Anthony stepped back into the batter's box at the Houston Astrodome Saturday facing a zero-and-two count and San Francisco's Rick Reuschel, the National League's starting pitcher in this year's All-Star Game.

Anthony, 21, a left-handed hitting outfielder from San Diego, had just been called up from Houston's double-A team in Columbus, Ga. It was hoped he could add some muscle to an outfield that had produced just five home runs all season.

Some 420 feet away sat a soon-to-be-lucky fan about 20 rows up the right-center field pavilion. Seconds later, he became the owner of Anthony's first major league hit--a total that exceeded his high school varsity production by 100%.

A few innings later, Anthony connected with a Rich Gossage pitch for a double that hit just inches below the yellow line that marks the top of the outfield fence.

In front of a national television audience, Anthony displayed the kind of swing that made him a minor league star and "untouchable" prospect in the Astros organization.

In 1988 with Class A Asheville, N.C., Anthony led all minor leaguers in home runs (29), while driving in 89 runs and hitting .273, despite missing the first month of the season. This season in Columbus, he had 28 home runs, 79 RBIs and a .300 average before he was called up Friday.

With Glenn Davis supplying 23 of the Astros' 59 home runs this season, Anthony could provide an added punch the team needs to overtake the Giants in the National League West.

"People in the organization figured he was ready for the jump," said Art Howe, Houston's manager. "It's hard to say how he will do. He's only played three ballgames. But he's hit the ball well. He's got a quick bat with a lot of pop.

"His attitude is outstanding. He's all business . . . (And at least) for the time being, he's in the lineup."

A little more than three years ago, Anthony could not have dreamed of such a scenario.

Anthony was born in San Diego and grew up in Rancho Penasquitos. For three years, he attended Mt. Carmel High School, a perennial power in San Diego County baseball.

Mt. Carmel's baseball coach, Sam Blalock, said Anthony hit six or seven home runs for the freshman team and that he probably would have started on the varsity his sophomore year.

But he was academically ineligible and forced to sit out as a sophomore. As a junior, he regained his eligibility and started as a running back for the Sundevil football team.

When baseball season arrived, Anthony remained eligible under CIF standards but not his mother's. Again, he sat out.

"I just wasn't getting after it in school," Anthony said. "It was one of those things that happened. Being young and blind, I didn't realize the consequences. I wasn't performing up to my mom's standards.

"At the time, I really didn't have any desire to play baseball. I was into football. I loved it. I think I was a good running back, and I probably could have played somewhere after high school."

That came sooner than he expected. Instead of going to Mt. Carmel for his senior year in the fall of 1985, he dropped out and moved to Oakland to live with his brother, William.

Four months later, Anthony moved again, this time to Houston to live with another brother, Mike. His parents are divorced; his mother, Jo Krole Phillips, and younger brother, Bernard, live in Cardiff by the Sea, his father somewhere in Texas.

While in Houston, Anthony took classes at Sharpstown High and eventually passed a test to receive the equivalent of a diploma. He was also working to support himself.

"It was a learning experience," he said. "Definitely. If I had the maturity I have now, I would not have done some of the things I did."

In May 1986, Anthony was mature enough to call Reggie Waller, an Astro scout and minor league manager who had shown interest in him in San Diego.

Waller, a San Diego resident and part owner of the San Diego School of Baseball, said he remembers going to watch a North County Palomino League game in the summer of 1985.

"It was a strange thing," Waller said. "A fellow was talking with me and some of the other scouts. I've known (him) for a long time and he said, 'I don't know why you're watching these other kids. The best guy around is Eric Anthony.' I tried to act like I didn't hear him and just walked away."

Waller contacted Anthony and set him up to play with a summer league team.

"He was a pudgy little kid, about 5-11 (he is now 6-feet-2), 195 pounds," Waller said. "He was a mess in the field. He couldn't field the ball. He would run the wrong way. To say the least, he wasn't that overwhelming, until he stepped in the batter's box. His first time up, he hit one out. Way out."

A few more plate appearances, and Waller was convinced of Anthony's talent, raw as it was. He sent a recommendation to Houston.

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