Advertisement
 

Hit Parade

VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Kapler's Streak Showed Him He Belongs in the Majors

August 23, 2000|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It took a month for the runaway train to whistle to a stop. Only now is Texas Ranger outfielder Gabe Kapler able to survey the landscape and determine exactly where his 28-game hitting streak carried him.

"I'm at a place where I know I can consistently produce," he said. "I did something for a month straight and it builds my confidence going into the next month."

The streak lasted until Aug. 16, established a Rangers' record and is the longest in the major leagues this season. Kapler, formerly of Taft High and Moorpark College, batted .375 with 18 extra-base hits during the streak, raising his average to .287.

More importantly, the streak brought him a long way toward fulfilling the promise the Rangers expected when he was acquired in the nine-player off-season deal that sent outfielder Juan Gonzalez to the Detroit Tigers.

"I'm not surprised at the things Kapler is doing," Manager Johnny Oates of the Rangers said. "He's got a lot of ability."

A long hitting streak is rarely a fluke. Nearly every player in the modern era to hit in more than 25 consecutive games soon became or already was a star.

Paul Molitor hit in 39 consecutive games in 1987, the fifth longest streak in major league history. The accomplishment became a career touchstone. He batted .291 in nine seasons before the streak and .313 in 11 seasons afterward.

"After the streak, I realized you can set your goals higher in this game and achieve them," Molitor said. "I changed my approach."

Kapler, 24, knows he's a long way from becoming a Molitor, a probable Hall-of-Famer who collected 3,319 hits.

One streak doesn't lead to easy street.

"I don't know if takes you to the next level," Kapler said. "I want to be productive on a day-to-day basis. I knew I had it in me. It just had to surface. Now it has surfaced, but at the same time I don't want to mess with the baseball gods by reading too much into it."

Divine intervention aside, Kapler has had flashes of brilliance before. He was a 57th-round draft pick in 1995 who became the minor league player of the year three years later. He hit 18 home runs as a Tiger rookie last season and had homers in his first two at-bats with Texas on opening day.

However, he cooled off and was batting .241 when he tore a quadriceps muscle. He missed 35 games, including 15 after he re-injured the quadriceps during a triple-A rehab assignment.

"The injury was a blow to me mentally," he said. "It definitely put a dent in the season, statistically and otherwise. But at this point, it's in the rear-view mirror. I can still see it, but it was only a bump in the road."

Kapler didn't get hot until the injury completely healed after the All-Star break. He spent much of the down time overhauling his swing with batting coach Rudy Jaramillo of the Rangers.

The adjustment was drastic and the results dramatic. Jaramillo suggested Kapler alter his stride by lifting his front leg high rather than sliding forward.

"It's a timing mechanism that helps me keep my weight back and also makes me more aggressive," Kapler said. "Now I've got my weight going back before it goes forward. It clicked for me."

Kapler felt so indebted to Jaramillo, he gave the coach the ball he hit to break Mickey Rivers' team record 24-game hitting streak.

"Now, when he goes to the plate, his mind is clear," Jaramillo said. "He's thinking about how to compete and how to beat the pitcher. He lets everything else take care of itself."

Something Kapler has always done is take care of himself. He is an avid weight-lifter and has posed for the covers of several body-building magazines.

So far, his 6-foot-2, 210-pound body has been able to withstand the brutal Texas summer.

"I work out every day, although I've cut down significantly," he said. "Like everybody else, I'm really having trouble with the heat. It's a constant battle."

Kapler is a hot commodity with several groups outside typical baseball followers. Jewish publications follow him closely and he recently was on the cover of ADD magazine, championed for successfully battling attention deficit disorder.

Growing up in the Valley, Kapler did exceptionally well on standardized tests but struggled in school.

"There wasn't an eraser that wasn't eaten, there wasn't a window he didn't stare out of," said Kapler's mother, Judy. "He attended a gifted magnet school. But he didn't like school. He was very misunderstood."

After a so-so career as a Taft shortstop--he had only 14 runs batted in as a senior--he blew a scholarship to Cal State Fullerton in less than a semester by not attending class regularly.

Playing under easygoing Coach Ken Wagner at Moorpark College turned Kapler around. Still, he was drafted almost as an afterthought. He is the lowest pick ever to make the Tigers and probably always will be because the draft now ends after 50 rounds.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|