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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

JetHawks Get Visit From the Big Boys

Baseball: Diamondbacks are replaced early in 15-5 exhibition victory.

April 03, 2001|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LANCASTER — The Arizona Diamondbacks, like adrenalin, brought a surge of short-lived excitement to The Hangar, defeating the JetHawks, 15-5, in an exhibition Monday.

Mark Grace graced the area around first base for two innings, grounded out and exited.

Notorious grouch Matt Williams pretended to enjoy signing autographs by the dozens, hit a single and exited.

Steve Finley launched a batting-practice homer onto a freeway on-ramp 80 feet beyond the right-field fence, grounded out and exited.

Reggie Sanders belted a batting-practice bomb over the scoreboard in left, the ball landing on Avenue I asphalt inches from the windshield of an 18-wheel truck and careening into Young's RV Center on the other side of the street.

Sanders made no exit because he is on the disabled list and did not play.

Although Diamondback stars were replaced early, their appearance was appreciated by those who aspire to someday call Bank One Ballpark home.

"I love watching these guys hit," said catcher J.D. Closser, one of several JetHawks who watched gape-jawed as the Diamondbacks took batting practice.

After four seasons as a Seattle Mariner affiliate, the JetHawks are a Diamondback farm team. Nice gesture, bringing out the big boys to welcome the near-sellout crowd before the Diamondbacks open the season today at Dodger Stadium.

"It was a quirk in the schedule that worked out," said Joe Garagiola Jr., Diamondback general manager. "It gives fans a chance to see major league players and have a good time. We would have needed a place to work out anyway, so coming out here was great for everybody.

"Most of the players can remember when they were in the minor leagues and how important it is to a community to get an opportunity like this."

The Diamondbacks did enjoy themselves. At least during batting practice, when rockets left the park at a rate of five or so a minute, cementing The Hangar's long-standing reputation as a launching pad.

Finley drew laughs when he stepped in the batting cage, announced his intentions by saying, "hit and run," then hit a blast 50 feet over the right-field fence.

The most impressive swing in the game was by JetHawk second baseman Matt Kata, who drove a Bobby Witt pitch into the screen above the fence in right for a home run in the first inning. The ball bounced back onto the field and Grace ended up with it. He tried to toss it to the dugout as a keepsake for Kata, but nobody was paying attention. Grace stuffed the ball in his back pocket until he got the attention of the first-base coach.

"There isn't much difference in skills between us and the major leaguers," Closser said. "It's strength, experience and understanding what you are doing."

Williams, a veteran of 14 major league seasons who played here while on a rehab assignment last season, had no problem spending the last day before the regular season at a showcase exhibition.

"It's been a long time, but it seems like yesterday I was working my way up in the minor leagues," Williams said. "A game like this is good for [the JetHawks], good for the fans and it works for us because we needed a few swings before opening day."

JetHawk notes: Diamondback hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, 46, was a three-sport standout at Antelope Valley High, graduating in 1973. Murphy turned down a football scholarship to Arizona State and signed with the Oakland Athletics. An outfielder, he had a 12-year major league career and won five gold glove awards. . . . Right-hander Mike Schultz, formerly of Cleveland High, will be the JetHawks' starter in the season opener Thursday night against the San Jose Giants at The Hangar. . . . The Diamondbacks were the second major league team to play an exhibition here. The JetHawks hosted the Seattle Mariners on March 30, 1997, in a game Randy Johnson started and pitched six innings.

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