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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

JetHawks Get Off the Ground in 1-0 Victory

Baseball: Amid all the fanfare of opening day in the minors, Lancaster beats Rancho Cucamonga.

April 03, 1998|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LANCASTER — The oddball antics expected at minor league games began long before the first Lancaster JetHawk fan found a seat Thursday night at the Hangar.

JetHawk coach and former Korean major leaguer Charlie Lee stood a bat on end and set the shell of a sunflower seed on the knob. With much aplomb and a disbelieving gaggle of JetHawk players looking on, Lee took a mighty swing and--dink!--cleanly knocked the shell off without disturbing the bat.

Later came sumo wrestling, dancing by the Hawkettes, a race around the bases between JetHawk mascot Kaboom and a 10-year-old fan . . . and oh, yes, a 1-0 season-opening victory over the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, only the JetHawks' second shutout at home in three seasons.

Coming up with fresh promotions is a constant challenge. The fans, so easy to please two years ago, need new thrills. Attendance Thursday night was 3,511, down from 4,116 on opening day last season and 6,603 the year before.

Gone are the masseuse, the hot tub, the haircuts in the ballpark. Say hello to karaoke and tossing tennis balls through hula hoops set around the field.

On April 15, fans can mail their tax returns on their way through the turnstiles.

"The first couple of years we were crazy but somewhat conservative," said Matt Ellis, the JetHawks' general manager.

"This year we will take more chances. We can do something we think might be funny even if it turns out it isn't funny."

A winning team can make for some serious fun, too.

Denny Stark, a right-hander considered one of the Mariners' top prospects, allowed one hit in five shutout innings, striking out six and walking two. Stark was lifted only because he approached his early season limit of 75 pitches.

The three JetHawk pitchers who followed Stark--Russ Koehler, Aaron Scheffer and Allan Westfall--were equally effective, enabling a second-inning run to stand up.

A sacrifice fly to right field by Cirilo Cruz scored Jayson Bass, who opened the inning with a single, stole second and advanced to third on walks to Jason Regan and Mike Burrows.

It was the first 1-0 result at the Hangar.

"You won't see many 1-0 games here," JetHawk Manager Rick Burleson said. "You may never see another one."

As if he anticipated the dearth of runs, Burleson had the JetHawks running early.

In addition to Bass' stolen base, Burrows stole one and Adonis Harrison, who tripled and singled, was thrown out attempting to steal in the first.

"We have five guys who can steal bases and we'll take advantage of that," Burleson said.

The JetHawks' defense was sound and Regan, the third baseman, and shortstop Ramon Vazquez made outstanding plays.

"It's a great feeling to take the mound knowing that if you do your job, the infield will do their job," Koehler said. "We'd heard Vazquez was good, but a couple of those plays were spectacular."

Vazquez took a hit away from Pete Paciorek in the seventh by stabbing a ground ball over second base and throwing him out. It was the kind of play that can keep bringing fans to the ballpark.

Ellis believes ticket sales will become brisk once the weather ceases being so. Temperatures in the 40s were accompanied by a biting breeze.

"Our fans have become very baseball savvy," he said. "It took them a year or so to learn what minor league baseball is all about. Now they know how it works.

"It's a constant challenge to keep things fresh. But I think we're off to a fine start once again."

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