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He Wants to Be Big Leaguer From Small Town

June 11, 1996|Chris Foster

LAKE ELSINORE — Jarrod Washburn, Angel pitching prospect and hometown-boy-made-good, is somewhat perplexed about what's going on back in Webster, Wis.

The Jarrod Washburn baseball card is going for $2.50--including frame--at Wayne's I.G.A., a small grocery store located on Hwy. 35. Heck, Romane Weis, the town's 74-year-old mayor, would like one, but supplies have been limited. Best to call ahead.

The Jarrod Washburn Road has been charted, quite literally, by the Burnett County Sentinel, the local newspaper. The paper ran a United States map this spring that marked the points that Washburn--the Angels' second-round pick in 1995--has traveled to date. Oshkosh, Boise, Cedar Rapids and now, Lake Elsinore. All the big cities.

It's enough to make a shy country boy scuff the ground and blush. There's only one tiny hitch. This is all a bit premature, at least from Washburn's focused view. He's not ready to sit back and admire how far he has come.

"Every since I was old enough to know what baseball was, I wanted to be a major leaguer," Washburn said. "Sure, a lot of kids dream about it. But they lose that dream. I never did. I always wanted to be on TV being watched by other little kids."

There are plenty of reasons to believe Washburn will get his air time. He is, after all, a left-handed pitcher with a 90-mph fastball. But it's his sense of direction that has Angel officials as optimistic as the 600 or so folks back in Webster. Behind those Opie-like features there's a Ron Howard-like drive.

"Everyone on this team thinks he's going to the major leagues," Lake Elsinore Storm pitching coach Howie Gerschberg said. "But Jarrod is different. His whole attitude revolves around it. A lot of guys have the talent, but they lack the intensity and aggressiveness. That's not Jarrod's problem."

Intensity? In high school, Washburn once struck out the first 10 batters. When the 11th guy bunted back to the mound for an out, Washburn was visibly angry at being cheated out of another strikeout.

Aggressive? Gerschberg has been tinkering with Washburn's curveball trying to make it a "show-me pitch," something to keep batters off-balance. Washburn's said that wasn't good enough. He wanted it to be a "nasty pitch."

That mental makeup and ambition is crammed into a 6-foot-1, 190-pound body bulging with talent. Washburn is 5-3 with a 3.47 earned-run average with the Storm, a Class-A team. But he is second in the California League with 83 strikeouts in 85 innings.

"The way the ball comes out of his hand seems so smooth," said Ken Forsch, the Angels' director of player development. "It's the type of delivery that could pitch a lot of innings in the major leagues."

Washburn never thought any different. Most kids watch baseball on television and dream. Washburn watched games and charted the pitches.

Most kids watched Reggie Jackson in awe. Washburn watched Jackson and told his mother, "I can strike him out."

"When he was in the fifth grade, he was supposed to write a story on how he saw himself 20 years later," said Dawn Washburn, his mother.

Easy. He was going to be a pro baseball player, right?

"He wrote about being in the hall of fame," Dawn Washburn said.

His parents smiled at such aspirations and encouraged him. But . . .

"No one makes the big leagues from Webster, Wis., was our thought," said Mike Washburn, his father.

The closest thing was Si Johnson, who spent 17 years in the major leagues between 1928-47 and would wax poetic about striking out Babe Ruth two or three times in a game. But Johnson wasn't from Webster, he only vacationed there.

Washburn could be the first, or will be, as he sees it.

"When he signed, a reporter asked him if he was satisfied," Mike Washburn said. "He would be satisfied when he was the starting pitcher in a major league all-star game.

"Every time he reaches one plateau, he grabs another goal."

No wonder Wayne's I.G.A. began stocking the cards. It was a shrewd move, as the store has had to resupply three times. Townsfolk are so into the Washburn watch that a "Jarrod Washburn Day" is being planned for this fall. It might be Weis' only shot at a card.

"My grand kids have some, but I can't seem to get one," Weis said. "Every time I'm in the store, they're sold out."

What's he expect? People have been waiting years for it.

As a third-grader, Washburn told Webster High Coach Rusty Helland he was going to be the first baseman for the New York Yankees. But Helland watched the kid throw and thought different.

"I thought he could make it, but I knew he was going to be a pitcher," Helland said.

The talent was evident. At 5, he was told he was too young to play T-ball. The coach then watched Washburn play catch and decided to bend the rules.

In Little League, no one would volunteer to catch that fastball. So his younger brother, Ryan, was enlisted. They were a team for three years, until their father noticed Ryan's catching hand was constantly swollen and stopped using him.

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