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Biaggi Finally Has a Steady Job With Lions : Baseball: A string of injuries and academic problems had limited the catcher's playing time, but he has played in 31 of 32 games and done well for Loyola this season.

April 02, 1993|MITCH POLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In nearly every respect, it has been a good season for Loyola Marymount catcher Andy Biaggi.

Despite a slump that has seen his batting average dip in the past two weeks, Biaggi still ranks third on the team with a .295 average. He has been a stalwart on defense with a .987 fielding percentage.

But perhaps the most important statistic is that the senior has played 31 of Loyola's 32 games.

It is the first time Biaggi, 22, has been able to play on a steady basis since he arrived at the school in 1990.

Before this season, Biaggi's career had been slowed because of a seemingly endless stream of injuries and academic problems.

After transferring from Laney Community College in Oakland, where he was a standout for two seasons, Biaggi had to adjust to playing at the Division I level.

What he didn't anticipate was the injuries.

The problems started before he had even played a regular-season game. He broke a bone in his right hand in fall practice.

"I don't even know when it happened," Biaggi said. "I think it just happened over time. I just kept swinging bat with (the injury) and it just got worse and worse."

Biaggi wound up taking six weeks off to recuperate and was ready to play when the 1991 season started.

About a month into the season, Biaggi separated a shoulder in practice and missed three weeks of play. He was back for a month before suffering a mysterious injury to his left knee.

"It wasn't from playing in a game that I can remember," he said. "It just happened over time I guess, but I just noticed it when I woke up in my apartment one day and it was swollen."

Doctors told Biaggi that he had a circulation problem in the knee. He had an operation in which doctors dislocated the knee and drilled holes in it to regain proper circulation. He missed the rest of the season.

Biaggi returned to the team but was struggling academically. He spent the 1992 spring semester on academic probation.

As it turned out, Biaggi had suffered a joint injury in his shoulder during fall practice in 1991.

"Going into the season, I wasn't ready to go," Biaggi said. "Being ineligible was the thing that really knocked me out, but what it did was give me a chance to get healthy."

He also used the time to improve academically. Biaggi posted a 3.0 grade-point average last semester, his best since he enrolled at Loyola.

"He's worked very hard on his academics," Loyola Coach Jody Robinson said. "This is not an easy school to go to, and this is a place where you have to work very hard to do well in the classroom. He lost his scholarship at one point because of the academic problems."

But Robinson said Biaggi has matured considerably.

"He's just a great kid who has had to learn to fight his way through some difficult times," he said. "Maybe that was good for him because that's the way it is in life. You have to go through a lot of ups and downs and everything doesn't come easy."

Biaggi has had his share of highs and lows on the field this season.

Only a few weeks ago, he was the leading hitter in the West Coast Conference with a .356 average. But he has only two hits in his past 22 at-bats.

Part of the problem may be from overwork. Biaggi had played in all of the Lions' games before he sat out Tuesday against Cal State Long Beach.

"You just have to stay positive about it," he said. "I've been in a slump lately and I'm hitting in a little bad luck. My bat speed has gone down a little too. I don't know if it's just from the wear and tear you take from being behind the plate or if it's just a slump. But I know I have to keep a positive outlook if I want to get out of it."

Despite his recent offensive difficulty, Biaggi has impressed his teammates with his attitude.

"There's some wear and tear that he's experienced," pitcher Shane Bowers said. "I'm sure he's tired, but you never see him whining about it. That's the kind of attitude he has and that picks up the team. We know he's caught doubleheaders and he's played in practically every game, but he's still out there battling."

He has also continued to help the team in other aspects.

"He's done a good job of holding the runners on, and the pitchers are pretty confident when he's behind the plate," Robinson said. "He calls a good game and he keeps the pitchers focused mentally. He's also good at getting in front of pitches. I think (our pitchers) have no fear when he's behind the plate."

Biaggi was a member of the 1991 Loyola team that finished 38-22 and was second in the WCC, only to be bypassed for an NCAA playoff berth. He is using that season as inspiration.

"I still think about not making the playoffs that year, and all of the seniors think about it because this is our last year and we've never been to a regional," he said. "I don't want to end my career on a bad note, so I want this more than anything."

Robinson says Biaggi has the defensive skills to succeed in the pros. But whether or not Biaggi plays professionally, he has already left an impression on Robinson.

"I don't know if he's going to play pro ball, but because of his hard work on and off the field he will have options," Robinson said. "I think his biggest victory is that he will graduate. The bottom line is he might not play baseball much longer, but he's going to have that diploma forever."

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