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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

In Wilson's Dreams, Heaven Was Familiar Shade of Blue

Rookie shortstop from Thousand Oaks returns home to play at Dodger Stadium with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

April 26, 2001|JOHN KLIMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the ballpark of his youth, Jack Wilson returned home as a rookie growing up in the major leagues.

Wilson, 23, from Thousand Oaks High and Oxnard College, has found a home with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who value his defensive abilities so much that the organization jumped him from double A to the major leagues.

The improbable rise of Wilson, a ninth-round draft choice out of Oxnard College in 1998, hasn't been forgotten.

Some 150 friends and family were in attendance Wednesday night as Wilson played the second of a three-game series at Dodger Stadium, turning a section of the upper deck into the unofficial Jack Wilson Fan Club.

About 200 fans watched Tuesday's game.

"It's really weird looking out into the blue seats when you know you were looking in for so long," Wilson said. "They seem so far away until you're on the field."

The same can be said for Wilson's rapid rise. With the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a kid in the upper deck, Wilson has endeared himself to the Pirates, who have displayed patience with Wilson despite a .177 average in 14 games, including 0 for 4 Wednesday.

"It's been refreshing to see a kid who's a little naive and willing to learn," said second baseman Pat Mears, who was moved from shortstop when Wilson won the position in spring training.

"Some guys come up and think they got it solved. He's brought a lot of enthusiasm here. It's been good for me too. Jack reminds you it's still game."

Mears has become Wilson's mentor. When Wilson won Mears' job, forcing the seven-year veteran to second, Manager Lloyd McClendon had Mears inform Wilson.

The double-play partners dress one locker apart.

"I call him 'Dad,' " Wilson said. "Every question I have, I'll come to him. He knows all the stuff that I'm learning."

The rest of the National League is learning about Wilson's defensive skills. On opening day, he made a diving play that made ESPN's highlights.

"As far as range and glove go, he's one of the better guys I've seen," catcher Jason Kendall said. "It's going to be fun to watch him grow up in the big leagues."

Wilson collected his first major league hit, a double down the left-field line off Osvaldo Fernandez of Cincinnati, on opening day at Cinergy Field.

After the game, Wilson presented the bat he used to his father, Butch.

He gave one batting glove to his brother, Andy, 26, who plays independent minor league baseball.

"It didn't get strange seeing him in the big leagues until his first night [in Dodger Stadium]," Butch Wilson said. "But baseball is where he belongs. It's natural."

Wilson's Thousand Oaks' lineage soothed his nerves before his first major league game. After batting practice, he found a good-luck telegram waiting for him from Kurt Stillwell, a former major league shortstop who played at Thousand Oaks, and made his major league debut in Cincinnati.

Wilson grew up admiring Stillwell.

"I was really nervous until then," Wilson said. "I got that 20 minutes before the game and it was an unbelievable feeling."

So too was the feeling for Wilson when he looked up into the blue seats for the first time as a major league player at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday.

"Two-hundred people?" Kendall said. "I don't think I even know 200 people. I'll tell you what, after this week, Jack is going to be wiped out. He'll probably be going home to Pittsburgh to sleep for the whole day."

This time, the major leagues won't be a dream.

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