MESA, Ariz. — One of the great things about baseball is that you’re always bound to find a story, even when it looks as if there is not much to write about.
Here in the Arizona Fall League, you’d think half these guys might doze off in the middle of an at-bat. Only a couple of hundred spectators turn out for games, and a majority are the usual suspects—scouts and front-office executives. Listen closely and at times you might even hear cactus growing on the nearby mountains.
But doze off? Quintin Berry? Not a chance.
The Phillies’ 2006 fifth-round draft pick reached the AFL earlier this month as a taxi squad member, eligible to play only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. And if that sounds like it’s only one measly slot above the water boy’s role on the team, well, it’s not far off.
Fortunately, Berry has had someone telling him from the start not to worry about his standing or, for that matter, not to lose the energy that enabled him to rally for a strong second half at high Class A Clearwater.
The words come from a former Phillies farmhand. He’s a guy you may have heard of.
A Hall of Famer by the name of Ryne Sandberg.
In the winters following the 1980 and 1981 seasons, before they eventually traded him to the Cubs, the Phillies dispatched Sandberg to Venezuela. Where he mostly rode the bench.
“I played once every 10 days or once a week,” Sandberg said. “But I did my pregame and took some balls and had a routine. For two winters, I didn’t play in the league. And in three months (after his second winter ball), I was in a major league lineup.”
Guess who’s benefiting now?
Because Tyler Colvin injured his left elbow and a pitch nailed John Raynor in the back of his left hand, Mesa lifted the taxi squad tag from Berry and is giving him a more expanded look.
Fortunately he is making some noise here in the desert.
Through 41 at-bats, Berry is hitting .341/.333/.488 with a home run, three doubles and six RBIs, with Sandberg emphasizing that Berry, a lefthanded hitter notorious for swatting the ball to the opposite field, show an ability to pull inside pitches.
“When you don’t play very much and you don’t get to do very much, you kind of get forgotten,” Berry said. “When I go home (to San Diego), I don’t want people to say, ‘You were in the fall league?”
Yeah, that would be the ultimate insult.
“He’s making the most of his opportunity,” Sandberg said. “I’ve worked with him on clearing the hips a little bit and turning on the inside pitches when he needs to. And he’s been hitting through the four-hole and has pulled some balls to right center.”
Berry, who turns 24 on Nov. 21, has always been more of a linedrive hitter with occasional power. But by being able to turn on inside pitches and pull them to right field, he would in effect surprise a lot of defenses, not just pitchers.
This year, he overcame a slow start and finished .272/.360/.341 with 28 extra-base hits, including 24 doubles. He also stole 51 bags in 65 attempts, giving him 106 the past two seasons.
Part of Sandberg’s emphasis is for Berry to use his top hand on the bat to turn on the inside pitches.
“He’s got me going in the right direction so that I can attack that inside pitch,” Berry said. “I’m more of a bottom-hand guy, but I’ve been using my top hand more to stay on top of that pitch instead of rolling over.”