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A Lesson About the Business of Baseball : Minor leagues: After being selected in the second round of the 1992 draft, Rick Magdaleno endured the frustration of haggling over a contract.

July 08, 1993|GARY KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BALDWIN PARK — Rick Magdaleno knew adjustments were required when making the transition from high school baseball to the minor leagues.

He was ready to face pitchers that threw the ball faster, batters that hit the ball harder and fans that heckled players louder. The only thing Magdaleno was not prepared for was his first real introduction to the business that is professional baseball.

The Cincinnati Reds provided Magdaleno with that when they selected the former Baldwin Park High standout in the second round of the 1992 amateur draft. Magdaleno's euphoria, however, was short-lived. And it soon gave way to uncertainty and frustration when he and the Reds were unable to agree on the financial terms of a signing bonus and contract.

June became July, and July turned into August, with Magdaleno and the Reds at an impasse. Reluctantly, Magdaleno was about to begin classes at East Los Angeles College when he and the Reds agreed to terms.

"I thought it was going to be easier," Magdaleno said of the negotiation process. "There were no hard feelings, but it kind of delayed the start of my career."

Magdaleno, who missed all of what would have been his Rookie League season, was invited by the Reds to the Instructional League last winter. His play against other prospects, combined with his performance during spring training, earned him a spot as the starting shortstop for the Charleston (W. Va.) Wheelers, the Reds' affiliate in the Class-A South Atlantic League.

Magdaleno, 18, was batting .255 through 72 games for the Wheelers. He had six doubles, two triples and had driven in 13 runs in 239 at-bats. He also had made 25 errors.

"The more games I play, the better I'm getting," Magdaleno said. "It was rough at first and I'm still working to improve, especially on defense."

The 6-foot, 180-pound Magdaleno is the youngest player on the Charleston team. The South Atlantic League, which features teams in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and West Virginia, features many former college players competing in their first full professional season.

"We have a lot of guys that are 21 and 22," Magdaleno said. "Some of them seem like they get tired of playing every day. Maybe it's because I'm young or something, but I don't get tired. I just go out there and play."

Magdaleno had been on track to play professionally ever since his freshman year at Baldwin Park when he was summoned to the varsity after the regular shortstop broke his hand. Magdaleno batted .300 as a freshman, .418 as a sophomore and .490 as a junior.

Last season, he batted .476 and was 2-1 with four saves as a pitcher.

Major league scouts liked Magdaleno's arm strength, hands and bat speed. The Reds selected him with one of their two second-round choices as compensation for the loss of Type-B free agent Mariano Duncan to the Philadelphia Phillies.

"Once I got down to Instructional League, everything was fine," said Magdaleno, who spent last winter with many of the Reds' other top prospects at Plant City, Fla. "I had been playing in a Senior Babe Ruth League during the summer, so I was ready."

Magdaleno opened this season as the leadoff batter for Charleston, and he has maintained that slot in the lineup because of his aggressiveness.

"I just swing where the ball is pitched," said Magdaleno, who has stolen six bases and scored 24 runs. "I look away a lot. When they come outside, I go that way.

"I really haven't done any one thing outstanding, but I'm getting better at everything. When you do things over and over and over again, you can't help but get better.

"There's a lot of things to be learned. I'm learning something new every day."

Magdaleno hopes that a strong finish will earn him a promotion to Winston-Salem (N.C) in the Class-A Carolina League next season. The protracted contract negotiation process was worth enduring for the opportunity to start his chosen career.

"I think it's better than college," Magdaleno said. "This is what I want to do. It's a good job."

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