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MINOR LEAGUE REPORT

Modesto, Visalia Have Met Enemy

June 29, 2002|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When California League rivals Visalia and Modesto open a four-game series Thursday in Modesto, many fans will cheer for both teams, opposing players will talk about getting together after the game and brushback pitches probably won't be thrown.

"I think if we wanted to move one of their guys off the plate," Visalia utility man Jason Basil said, "we would get our catcher to tell them before throwing one high and tight."

Such courtesies will be extended because, in a way, Visalia and Modesto players are teammates--they are all members of the Oakland A's farm system.

The arrangement has been in place since 1997, when the Visalia Oaks became an A's affiliate. The Modesto A's have been an Oakland team since 1975.

Oakland is baseball's only organization with two minor league teams in the same league.

"These guys know each other's tendencies," Modesto General Manager Greg Coleman said. "The games run longer. Guys choose their pitches wisely."

Basil possesses inside information on both teams after starting the season at Modesto and being transferred to Visalia about a month later. The transition was an easy one, Basil said, because players from both teams attend spring training together.

"It's not like I went to a brand new team and had to reintroduce myself to 25 guys," he said.

Basil still associates with his former Modesto teammates--he drove there during the all-star break to play golf with a few buddies--but he and other players realize they are competing for the same roster spots on higher-level clubs.

"Let's say you have two star first basemen competing for a spot at double-A Midland," Coleman said. "There's a little more pressure to go out and compete."

Visalia's Jennifer Whiteley, the only female general manager in the California League, said the parent organization does a good job of balancing talent it gives to each team. For example, A's first-round draft picks Bobby Crosby and Jeremy Bonderman were assigned to Modesto, and Barry Zito went to Visalia when he was starting out.

The teams didn't exactly tear up the league's Northern Division in the first half of the season, tying for last place at 34-36, 15 games behind first-place Stockton. But their upcoming series will be historic. Coleman said Modesto expects to draw its four-millionth fan in franchise history during its four games against Visalia.

Around the Nation

In a nod to "The Simpsons," Albuquerque's new triple-A team next season will probably be nicknamed the Isotopes after local residents overwhelmingly supported the idea in Internet and radio polls.

The idea stems from an episode of the animated television show in which Homer Simpson stages a hunger strike to prevent the mayor of Albuquerque and a beer corporation from stealing his hometown minor league team, the Springfield Isotopes.

Although many longtime Albuquerque residents wanted the team to retain the Dukes nickname it had used during its run as a Dodger affiliate, General Manager Mel Kowalchuk said the team may be willing to change.

"It's time to try a new approach, something different," Kowalchuk said. '"Let's face it, the young generation is going to dictate things in the future. It's wise that we listen to what they say, though we don't always have to act on it."

Ken Young, managing partner of Albuquerque Baseball, is expected to decide on the nickname by the end of July. Among the possibilities are the Dukes, 66ers, Roadrunners and Atoms.

The team will have a nickname before it has a major league affiliation.

The contract between the Florida Marlins and the Calgary Cannons, the Pacific Coast League team that will relocate to Albuquerque, expires at the end of this season. Kowalchuk said his club hopes to sign with a major league team from the West Coast, though it won't be the Dodgers because they have a triple-A contract with Las Vegas.

* Freddy Sanchez's 27-game hitting streak--the longest in the minors in two seasons--ended Tuesday when the Trenton (N.J.) shortstop was hitless in two at-bats with two walks in a loss to Reading in the first game of a doubleheader. Sanchez, who attended Burbank High and College of the Canyons, hit a solo home run in the second game.

Angels' System

Salt Lake outfielder Robb Quinlan's franchise-record 21-game hitting streak ended June 21 against Las Vegas, but his bat sizzled again two days later when he hit two home runs and drove in three runs against Iowa.

Quinlan, 25, hit .444 during the streak and increased his batting average from .298 to .343. He has a team-leading 13 home runs heading into the weekend. His career high is 14.

Teammate Chone Figgins, whose 20-game hitting streak ended Thursday, set a franchise single-season record with his 11th triple Tuesday against Iowa. He also leads the Pacific Coast League with 23 stolen bases.

Dodgers' System

Left-hander Orlando Rodriguez has continued his masterful work since being promoted to Class-A Vero Beach (Fla.) shortly before the all-star break. The reliever has pitched only three innings for his new team but has yet to yield a run this season--earned or otherwise--in 31 1/3 combined innings at South Georgia and Vero Beach.

Rodriguez, acquired from the Chicago White Sox last May as part of a five-player deal, went 3-0 at South Georgia, striking out 42 and walking 10 in 28 1/3 innings. His fastball, which reaches the mid-90s, is especially impressive considering his 5-foot-10, 155-pound frame.

*

Times staff writer Bob Rohwer contributed to this report.

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