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OC HIGH: STUDENT NEWS AND VIEWS : Double Play : Strike or no strike, millions of Americans aspire to play Major League baseball. While most will remain spectators, content with peanuts and Cracker Jacks, a precious few will sign with professional baseball teams and live the dream. Two Orange County teen-agers, Brandon Puffer and Peter Zamora, are in the next generation of Major League hopefuls. Both were drafted straight from high school by professional teams and were recruited by colleges, too. Each has chosen a different path to make his dream a reality. : Brandon Puffer: Into the Pros

August 19, 1994|JOSLIN GEMSCH

It has long been a dream of Brandon Puffer to play professional baseball. He signed his first baseball contract at the age of 12--it was a promise to his father that he would one day play ball with the pros.

Puffer has proved to be a man of his word. Following his senior year in June at Capistrano Valley, this pitcher was drafted by the Minnesota Twins. For now, he has set aside his collegiate prospects in order to play baseball professionally.

Puffer's strategy was practice. "I made sure I was on a team at all times," Puffer recalled. "When I'd get burned out, I'd take a couple of months off." His determination yielded success by age 7, when he led his first team to a 22-0 record. His talent also helped his other teams over the years to win city tournaments in the minor A division and conquer teams as far away as Taiwan.

Puffer's desire to remain active in the sport led to two varsity seasons of high school baseball. He had a 5-3 record in his senior year. Practices lasted up to four hours. Puffer also maintained his stamina as a varsity basketball player.

"I liked baseball better because I knew I had a better chance at making baseball my career," Puffer said.

The recruitment process for baseball players begins by word of mouth. In addition, scouts are sent to look for talent at high school games. "The scouts don't care how you play in high school," Puffer contends. "They look for potential. They may pick a guy who is skinny over one who is all filled-out because he has potential. They look for promise."

The Angels, Colorado Rockies, Toronto Blue Jays and Twins seem to have spotted the promise in Puffer. Letters and phone calls came from the professional teams, letting Puffer know they were interested.

"One team came over to my house and gave me all these tests to check my character," the 18-year-old said.

The Blue Jays showed the most interest at first. The Twins pursued him more persistently in the spring and even telephoned Puffer the night before the draft.

The professional teams were not the only ones who wanted to get their hands on Puffer. Cal State Long Beach and USC were also recruiters.

"I'm not the greatest student. I didn't take the SAT, so I knew I wouldn't get a scholarship. I had my mind set on playing professional baseball. I knew I was going to play baseball if I got drafted," Puffer said.

And that is what happened. He signed with the Minnesota Twins and headed to Ft. Myers, Fla., to train with a minor league team under the Twins. All players rise at 7 a.m. and are on the field by 8. Running and drills are performed until noon. Then the players break for lunch, followed by a daily nine-inning baseball game.

"It's like a real job," Puffer said. "Some teams don't treat their new players good, but the Twins treat you well. I was surprised."

Puffer has not completely discarded the thought of college. He plans to attend a community college during the off-season, and his contract includes payments toward college tuition. "If I get injured I can always go back to college."

A minor league player usually must work through four levels--rookie, single-A, double-A and triple-A--before actually playing in the majors, which players call "The Show." Puffer hopes to spend only four or five years in the minors. "I have to put in my time," he said.

The dream of playing professional baseball is becoming a reality for Puffer, and he remains as determined as ever. "I want to make it to The Show . . . and have a long career."

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