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MINOR LEAGUE NOTEBOOK / TEXAS LEAGUE : Injury Forces Sutton to Reconsider

August 03, 1995|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Baseball became so important to Larry Sutton that he didn't think of much else, which seems OK because he makes his living playing the game. And although being consumed by his work definitely didn't make Sutton unique, that mind-set wasn't what made him successful initially.

So when Sutton, a promising power-hitting first baseman for the Kansas City Royals' double-A affiliate at Wichita, fractured his left elbow in a freak accident, he took it as an ominous sign. The injury was a wake-up call, Sutton said, to again find time for God as well as batting practice.

"Looking back on it, it was a great growing experience," said Sutton, a born-again Christian. "I wasn't playing for the right reasons. I was putting baseball No. 1 in my life, and that was God's way of saying to me, 'I'm still here.' "

The message arrived just in time.

Sutton, who discovered the pop in his bat while at Mater Dei, he was a power hitter while at Mater Dei, has once more achieved balance. He's steadily getting back in the groove at the plate too. He's in the Wranglers' starting lineup, which is more than he hoped for after his peculiar mishap.

Loosening up before an at-bat against the San Antonio Missions four games into his season, Sutton fractured the elbow of his throwing arm. He was swinging a weighted bat and brought the bat back too far behind him, hyper-extending the elbow and breaking it.

"At first I asked, 'Why me?' " said Sutton, who missed almost three months of the season. "But I went fishing a lot and I thought about what got me here in the first place."

Sutton, raised a Catholic, became a born-again Christian in 1993 while playing for Class-A Rockford, Ill. He was in his second minor league season and in search of an outlet for his energy away from the ballpark.

"I just had to find something else to believe in than baseball," Sutton said. "Once I got to the minors, I started to see all the materialism, the selfishness and the egos."

His faith helped him avoid the pitfalls--at first. However, too much good fortune too soon can be a bad thing, Sutton said.

"When people have success, I think they think they deserve it; it's owed to them," Sutton said. "I think I got caught up in that. I needed something to show me that things happen for a reason."

Sutton, 25, knows of what he speaks. His first few professional seasons were charmed. Selected by the Royals in the 21st round of the 1992 June draft, Sutton, who played for Cal State Fullerton Coach Augie Garrido while at Illinois, was selected the Northwest League most valuable player that season for the Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds.

Last season was his best. Sutton hit .306 with 33 doubles, 26 home runs and drove in 94 runs for the Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks of the Carolina League, the Royals' highest Class-A affiliate. His second MVP award in three seasons followed.

"I was really happy to have moved up every year and done well, but I forgot that I was playing for God; God was the reason I had success," he said. "A lot of people in baseball are playing for the wrong reasons. I'm building my career on the values that the Lord wants, not just money and fame."

At 5 feet 11 and 175 pounds, Sutton derives his power from a fluid, compact swing. He returned to the Wranglers July 15 and is batting .257 with five RBIs. Wrangler Manager Ron Johnson was pleased by Sutton's return.

"I heard about him last year and I was really looking forward to having him on the ballclub, so I'm just glad he's back," Johnson said. "It's going to be hard for him to put up big numbers because of all the time he's missed, but he's doing really well."

For the most part, Sutton is enjoying his rehabilitation tour through the Texas League. But Texas in the summer does present a challenge.

"The competition down here is good and there is a lot of good talent," he said, "but, sir, it's a hot league. Really hot."

*

Shortly after Johnson got Sutton back, starting pitcher Robert Toth was taken from him. In the middle of his best season, Toth, a standout at Garden Grove High, was called up to triple-A Omaha.

Toth was 8-4 with a 2.17 earned-run average when he left July 23. Such is life on the organizational ladder.

"I'd love to still have him here, but I'm really happy for him," Johnson said. "Stuff-wise, he's not the type of guy who is going to blow by you at 90 [m.p.h.]. He has good command of his pitches and he throws strikes. Hopefully, he can keep moving up."

Toth made his first start for Omaha on Thursday, finishing with a no-decision in the Royals' 10-9 victory over Nashville. He gave up six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings.

*

Steve Sisco might not be so eager to help next time.

Sisco, who played in two College World Series with the Titans, moved from his usual second-base spot to right field for the Wranglers on June 16 when a teammate was injured. And wouldn't you know it, Sisco then ran into the outfield wall and broke his right ankle.

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