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J.A. Adande

Ethier Learns to Deal With Name Recognition

May 26, 2006|J.A. Adande

Andre Ethier's cup of coffee turned into a mini-meal, much to a Dodger fan's delight. Sometimes the metaphors come right down the middle of the plate.

All Ethier wanted was a latte the other day, but the store required a $5 minimum for a credit-card purchase. So he added a sandwich.

"You guys are doing great," the clerk said when he saw the name on the credit card.

"I'm like, 'Do I know you?' " Ethier recalled. "He's like, 'I love the young guys coming up here and helping out right away.'

"I'm glad at least someone recognizes me and knows my name somewhere. That's the thing about L.A. fans. If you give something to them here, they're going to really attach onto you and support you."

Ethier has given the Dodgers three home runs, eight RBIs and 17 hits in 56 at-bats -- a .304 average -- since he came up from triple-A Las Vegas on May 2 to replace the injured Ricky Ledee. Along with fellow youngsters Willy Aybar and Russell Martin, he has given the Dodgers a spark that led them to 15 victories in 18 games. That's something.

Ask Tom Lasorda what he likes about this team and he says it's the three kids.

"They can play!" he said, exclamation point and all.

Ethier came to the Dodgers from Oakland in the Milton Bradley trade. So far he has just as many home runs and RBIs as Bradley this season, and Ethier's much less likely to throw a water bottle into the stands or call a reporter an Uncle Tom. Whereas Bradley's time at home could result in a 911 call for a domestic dispute, Ethier spent a recent off day at Disneyland with his wife.

With that precedent, Ethier worried about fitting in. He'd heard enough to know why the Dodgers wanted to get rid of Bradley, but he'd also read about the Dodgers' loaded farm system.

"I was wondering why the heck they went and got me," said Ethier, whose professional highlights consisted of a .319 average, 18-homer season for Oakland's double-A squad. "They have the most talented minor leagues, by all the people who say so.

"To go get a guy like me who isn't proven in the major leagues, who wasn't even proven in triple A and throw him into all these guys, I was unsure."

The 24-year-old didn't know where to go when he first got to Dodger Stadium, following the cars around to the right parking place, walking onto an elevator and lucking out when someone punched the right button on the elevator down to the clubhouse level. He walked past the framed jerseys -- Sandy Koufax's 32, Roy Campanella's 39, Jackie Robinson's 42, and on and on -- into a room where players he'd watched in high school sat in the corner.

"A kind of overwhelming feeling," Ethier said.

He kept a respectful distance from veterans such as Jeff Kent, Kenny Lofton and Nomar Garciaparra at first, and they left the kid alone.

Slowly, the vets dropped some advice.

Do what got you here.

Don't try harder. Just because you're here doesn't mean you've got to do more.

Whatever you were doing before was good enough to get you here. Might as well stick with that.

A couple of weeks after he reached the big leagues, it seemed to kick in. He dragged a .222 average into the Freeway Series with the Angels.

Then he went five for five in the series opener, and followed that with four hits in his next 11 at-bats.

The same rules still applied. One good weekend didn't make him Albert Pujols.

"I'm Andre," said Ethier, whose grandparents are from Quebec. "I'm not going to hit 50 home runs, but I might score 80."

That attitude's good enough for Manager Grady Little, who says Ethier is "naturally a good player and he works hard to make himself better every day. He's a hard-working kid."

Wednesday night the Dodgers got their first two runs -- all they needed, thanks to a strong start by Aaron Sele -- on consecutive two-out singles by Lofton, Garciaparra, J.D. Drew and Kent.

The veterans, getting it done. Later, Martin added a three-run double, another productive night for the catcher.

Ethier did not start the game. What to do with Ethier when the likes of Ledee and Jason Repko come off the disabled list?

Say thanks to the kid, let him finish sipping his proverbial cup of coffee in the bigs and book a ticket back to Las Vegas?

"I wouldn't be assuming anything right now when you're talking about these young guys," Little said.

"They've done a tremendous job for us, and it's hard to ignore what they've done."

Ethier is quickly taking to L.A., even though his world is mostly limited to downtown and Dodger Stadium right now. He met Will Ferrell on the field before a game at Dodger Stadium and took a picture with the comedian.

Keep an eye out next time you're in line for a latte. Ethier's the guy with the big smile and the eyes that lock into you.

The guy who's as surprised as anyone that things are working out.

"As long as you do well and hold your own, who's going to complain?" Ethier said.

He certainly won't get any complaints from a fan base that's realizing something special might be brewing.

*

Colletti's crew

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