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Be careful, or John Mayberry you

By John Royster
May 14, 2002

John Mayberry Jr. is no baseball cliche. He didn’t grow up in clubhouses as the son of a major league player.

He grew up in clubhouses as the son of a major league coach.

Mayberry’s father, as you’ve probably figured out by now, is the former first baseman who pounded 255 home runs in 15 major league seasons, most of them in two of the tougher parks for homers, the Astrodome and Royals Stadium.

The catch is that John Mayberry Jr., now the first baseman for Rockhurst High in Kansas City, Mo., was born 15 months after his father’s playing career ended. So his formative years were spent while his father was coaching in pro ball, including two years with the Royals’ major league team in 1989 and ’90.

"My dad is very knowledgeable," said Mayberry Jr., who as a Stanford signee isn’t exactly a dim bulb himself. "He’s helped me see the good and bad, the ups and downs of pro ball."

At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Mayberry is a bit longer and leaner than his father, though there are hidden similarities in their games. He has his father’s eye (Mayberry Sr. led the American League in walks twice and on-base percentage once) and fielding ability (two A.L. fielding titles among first basemen).

The son is much faster than the father. So fast that once he reaches Stanford or becomes a first-round pick–a development that now is considered likely–he probably will be moved to the outfield, or possibly third base. Mayberry says he’s fine with that: "I’m willing to move wherever to develop myself and become a better player."

He’s expected to fill out, and may yet become more of a classic power type. But he was batting .472-9-31 in just 66 at-bats already, and he’s plenty athletic.

"He makes some plays as a first baseman that are unbelievable," Rockhurst coach Jim DeGraw said. The guy can make a shortstop look like an all-American. Good hands, strong arm, range, you name it."

Mayberry stands as one of the larger signability questions of this year’s draft. "They don’t have a clear-cut answer from him, and it’s been very difficult to get into the home," DeGraw said. "It’s been frustrating for some of (the scouts), but I think (the Mayberrys) maybe have realized they need to communicate a little better. Because the way his stock has been rising, it’s getting pretty serious."

That aside, DeGraw praised the way both father and son have handled the buildup.

"John Sr. is obviously enjoying this spring," he said. "He talked to me the other day about John enjoying his last few weeks of high school. He understands, and he’s never once big leagued anybody."

Gruler Than You

Chris Gruler is one of those guys. Righthanded, 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, throws in the middle 90s. He even throws a split-finger pitch. One of those high-draft-pick guys.

We have this on good authority from people who know what a high draft pick looks like. Scouts, for one. And anybody else who watched high school baseball last year in the far eastern suburbs of the Bay Area. Dan Denham, a righthander from Deer Valley High in Antioch, was taken 17th overall by the Indians in the 2001 draft.

Some observers, including a good number of scouts, think Gruler is better.

"Chris is ahead of him in certain ways: understanding the game, aside from the athletic factor," said Joe Albanese, Gruler’s coach at Liberty High in Brentwood. "He’s had his own trainers and his own conditioning program. He’s ahead of the system, so to speak."

Albanese, in fact, has been a high school and college coach in the area for several years, and can compare Gruler to several past players who went on to bigger and better things.

"I’ve seen the others, and Chris has all the qualities," he said. "He has all the things you need for the professional level. He definitely has poise and maturity. And of course he’ll get better. Whoever is fortunate enough to get him is going to get a very, very fine prospect and a real nice young man."

That may be Arizona State, which has signed him to a scholarship, or a professional organization. He’s seen by most as a likely first-rounder.

Though they were on competing teams last year, Gruler and Denham are friends. Gruler sees Denham much more as an information source than a yardstick for his own performance.

"Last year, I definitely tried to pick his brain about colleges and advisers and that kind of thing," Gruler said. "Now I’m picking his brain about pro ball and what that’s about. I’m even asking his family about what to expect."

Gruler is big on the mental game, which has served him well as his team struggled to a 4-12 record with five games remaining. His record was 2-3 despite a 1.67 ERA and wonderful secondary numbers: 102 strikeouts, 23 walks and 29 hits allowed in 52 innings. Aside from the fastball and split-finger, he throws a curveball and changeup.

Around The Nation

• Here’s one we hadn’t seen before: A single-engine plane crashed through the outfield fence at Troy of Fullerton, Calif., and landed upside-down in center field. None of the plane’s three occupants was seriously injured in the 6 a.m. accident, but Troy had to move a home game against La Habra to La Habra’s field. In addition to the impact damage, the plane leaked fuel and oil and numerous vehicles damaged the field during the cleanup.

• Coach Ronald Vincent of Rose in Greenville, N.C., got his 600th career win, an 8-5 victory over crosstown rival D.H. Conley. Vincent’s team this year was 22-1 (the loss came in the opener against still unbeaten Hoggard High of Wilmington) and ranked second to Hoggard in 4-A, the state’s highest classification.

• From the matchups-you-don’t-want department: Rich Hofman coached at Westminster Christian of Miami for 31 years, and the first time he faced his old school as coach at Westminster Academy of Fort Lauderdale, the season was on the line for both teams. Westminster Academy, which Hofman joined in 1999, won 2-1 in a semifinal game of the Florida 2-A regionals. The Lions scored on a wild pitch and Anthony Sandstrom’s solo home run, and got several key defensive plays from second baseman Brandon Paritz.

• The season came to an abrupt end for No. 16 Lake Mary (Fla.). The Rams (24-2) lost a district semifinal to Oviedo, falling short of the state 6-A playoffs. Oviedo was the fifth seed among five teams in the district tournament, but the seeding was deceptive. The Lions were 20-8 before playing Lake Mary (which was sixth nationally at the time) and since had advanced all the way through the district tournament to the regional final.

• The wheels also came off, if only temporarily, for Chatsworth (Calif.). The Chancellors were ranked as high as fourth nationally before losing three straight games, two to Cleveland of Resesa. To make matters worse, ace lefthander Joe Guntz lost out on his chance to go undefeated in his high school career: he was 31-0 before taking the first of the losses to Cleveland. Chatsworth had since won two straight to go to 21-3–and still 12th nationally–and Guntz still had a shot at the state record of 33 career wins.

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