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MINOR LEAGUES : Dreamer Wakes Up in Mesa

August 23, 1993|CHRIS FOSTER

MESA, Ariz. — Gus Leger used to sit at home in Auckland, New Zealand, and watch baseball on television. It seemed silly to dream.

"I always thought I could be quite good at it," Leger said. "But I figured I'd never know."

He figured wrong.

These days, Leger is playing for the Angels' rookie league team in Mesa, Ariz. He's the first professional baseball player from New Zealand.

Leger, 18, is hitting .087 and has only three hits, one a two-run triple. Still, that's not bad for a guy who has never hit against guys who throw overhand.

Leger grew up using a mitt, but it was for softball, not baseball. He has played the game since he was 9 and developed into one of the better players in the country.

Leger was playing for New Zealand in the World Series of Softball when he caught the eye of Angel scouts.

In the championship game, New Zealand was trailing Canada, 3-0, in the top of the seventh. Leger, an infielder/outfielder, led off the inning with a triple, starting a three-run rally. Canada came back to win, 4-3, in eight innings.

Afterward, Leger was approached by Lee Sigman, Angels' supervisor of international scouting.

"He said they had been watching me the whole tournament and wanted me to take some tests," Leger said. "At first, I thought these guys had to be kidding."

He found out something else the next day. The Angels put him through a workout and then offered him a contract.

"I figured it would be a good experience," Leger said.

Leger, who plays outfield, has spent the season adjusting to his new sport. Although there are many similarities, the differences are enough to cause him some difficulties.

Pitching has been the biggest problem, as Leger has had to learn to deal with curveballs and sliders.

"Fortunately for me, the Angels' main emphasis is on learning and development," Leger said. "They don't care too much about statistics, otherwise I might be out of here.

"Really, I've had to start from the beginning again and learn the basics."

It hasn't been completely frustrating.

Leger got his first hit, a single, against the Rockies in his second game. The following week, he hit a two-run triple against the Athletics.

"It's been like learning to walk again," Leger said.

Of course, Leger says that it would be much the same for one of his teammates to go to New Zealand and play softball.

"They may have the curveball and slider over here, but in New Zealand they throw a riser that would put them to a test," Leger said. "Let's see what their averages would be then."

*

It's better to be lucky . . . : Ken Kendrena is a contradiction in numbers.

On one hand, he's 5-0 with two saves for High Desert, a Class-A team for the Florida Marlins. On the other hand, he has a 7.11 earned-run average. So which set of numbers do you believe.

Both, actually.

Kendrena, who played at Cypress College, has been as good as his record indicates and as bad as his ERA looks. It just depends on what day you see him.

"Yeah, I've had my ups and downs here," Kendrena said. "I'll put up a couple of scoreless innings one game, then give up three runs in one inning in another."

Kendrena's big problem has been home runs. He has given up 15, the most in the California League. Of course, a lot of pitchers have trouble with home runs at High Desert's Maverick Stadium.

"The wind is always blowing out and the ball carries real well out here," Kendrena said. "You don't get away with many mistakes."

Actually, other than his ERA, Kendrena's numbers aren't too bad. He has struck out 59 and walked only 26, a ratio that has been typical throughout his career.

Last season at Erie, he struck out 61--averaging 10 strikeouts per nine innings--and walked only 12. He had a record of 5-4.

As a senior at Cal State Northridge, Kendrena was 11-6 and had 176 strikeouts and 41 walks.

"I'm looking for a little more consistency," Kendrena said. "I don't have a 90-m.p.h. fastball, I have to work on hitters."

Sometimes he does that rather well. He went five shutout innings for a victory over Bakersfield.

Sometimes he doesn't do it too well.

"I came in one game in the ninth and gave up a two-run homer," Kendrena said. "Of course, we got two in the bottom of the ninth, so I got the win."

*

Fond memories: Marc Newfield's taste of the majors has him wanting more.

Newfield, a Marina High graduate, is back in Jacksonville, a double-A team, after a two-week stint with the Seattle Mariners. He seems to be adjusting to life back on the farm rather well, as he is hitting .302 with 18 home runs and 49 runs batted in. But he longs even more for the big time.

"I had a great time up there," Newfield said. "I found out I could play. The only big difference was that pitchers will throw more off-speed stuff when they're behind. And they'll throw them for strikes."

Newfield was called up on July 6 after Edgar Martinez was injured. He hit .237 in 10 games, with one home run and five RBIs. He was sent back to Jacksonville on July 19 after Martinez returned.

Newfield got off to a shaky start. He went one for five with two RBIs in his first game, then was hitless in 10 at-bats.

He broke out of it with a three-hit performance against Cleveland, including his first home run.

"I hit it and thought it was going to be a double," Newfield said. "I was running hard, then looked up and saw the ball disappear. That was a great feeling."

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