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MINOR LEAGUE REPORT : Pitcher Erb Succeeding After Career Nearly Went by the Boards

June 16, 1990|JIM LINDGREN

A little over two years ago, Jack Erb, who umpired high school and college games for 11 years, looked as if he had just broken up a bench-clearing brawl with his face.

Black eye, cuts, he was a mess.

What happened, Jack?

He was just out catching his son. It seems Mike Erb could always bring it.

Need a new catcher's mitt broken in? A few dozen Erb pitches at 20 paces should do the trick.

The Angels thought enough of his right arm that they selected him in the first round in the 1987 June free agent draft. In three years at San Diego State, Erb had set the Aztecs' career strikeout record with 299 in 304 innings.

The Angels have not been disappointed--at least, not with his arm.

During three-plus minor league seasons, Erb has proven his worth and is now leading the triple-A Edmonton Trappers with a 3-1 record and 3.18 earned run average. The ERA is fifth best in the Pacific Coast League.

He was on the 40-man roster in spring training, but the lockout spoiled his chances of making the big league club.

"I did well, but with the lockout, they knew what their set lineup was going to be, and those guys got all the innings," Erb said.

But while his actions on the field have always been admirable--even legendary at places such as USDHS and Madison High--his off-field antics have long been a concern of administrators and coaches.

Not that he's a troublemaker, criminal or anything like that.

No. Erb is a surfer.

"Everybody perceives him that way," Jack Erb said. "But he brought it on himself. He promoted the image, and now he's got to live with it."

Another act he had to live with was when he transferred from USDHS to Madison at the beginning of his senior year.

"It had nothing to do with baseball," Erb said.

It had to do with fun. Erb was no longer having any, and he wanted to transfer to where most of his friends were.

The problem?

"My parents were on vacation," Erb said. "They were in Hawaii, so I walked into my counselor's office and said, 'Give me my transcripts. I'm out of here.'

"My parents weren't real happy. I was sweating bullets when I went to pick them up at the airport."

Said Jack, "We were not even in the house five minutes, when he said, 'Dad, can you come in the back room. I've got something to tell you.' "

But that's all in the past, right, Mike?

"Exactly. Believe it or not," Erb said. "I'm still the same person. I'll always be Mike Erb. But in order to get respect and not have this surfer image, I've got to portray a more serious role.

"I had to make changes, and I had to make them noticeable. Because I'm Mike Erb, I had to make them visible in order for them to see it."

Marcel Lachemann, the Angels' pitching coach, said: "Mike Erb's a guy with a lot of natural ability. The ability has always been there. It's going to be his decision whether he wants to make use of it. He needed to make a commitment."

Over the winter, which Erb spent working out in Anaheim, Lachemann said he showed signs of improvement in that area.

"He's in much better physical shape than he's ever been," Lachemann said. "He's lost some of that baby fat he used to have.

"To his credit, he's turned the corner. Being in the doghouse once doesn't mean you're going to stay there."

The doghouse, as far as the Angels were concerned, began for Erb when he was assigned to the Angels' Class-A club in Palm Springs in 1988.

He started out well but soon began driving back to San Diego after games so he could surf.

"I'd get home about 1 (in the morning) and to bed about 2:30," he said. "Get up early. Eat. Surf. Get back for the game."

Erb finished with a respectable 10-7 record, but his ERA rose to 4.40, and his strikeouts were down to 86 in 108 innings.

"I had to wake up to reality and blow that image off," he said. "I had to start taking baseball more seriously."

Erb was sent to Quad City, Iowa, of the Class-A Midwest League the next year and had a fine season. He finished 11-4 with a 2.69 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 147 innings.

Said Jack, "I think after the Palm Springs experience, Mike got to himself and decided he better take baseball more seriously or get out and do something else.

"He's finally made up his mind. He wants to be a pro baseball player. Son of a gun, I think he's going to do it."

Erb is one of many local prospects doing well for the Angels.

Mark Davis, a former Hoover High and Stanford outfielder, is hitting .267 with nine home runs and 26 runs batted in for Midland (double A). UC San Diego's Kyle Abbott (1-3, 5.59) and El Cajon Valley High's Andy Hall (injured) also play for Midland.

At Quad City, Santana High's Mike Hook is 3-1 with a 0.47 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings. Santana's Jeff Gay, a catcher, is hitting .252 with three homers and 12 RBIs. La Mesa's John Marchese is 1-0 with a 2.91 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 15 innings.

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