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Baseball
Stephen Cannella
April 23, 2001
Four's a CrowdHot-hitting Daryle Ward is odd man out in the Astros' loaded outfield
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April 23, 2001

Baseball

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YEAR

PRIMARY STARTER

GAMES AT 3B

SEASON AB

AVG.

HR

RBI

2001

Bill Mueller

12

50

.300

2

4

2000

Willie Greene

90

299

.201

10

37

1999

Gary Gaetti

81

280

.204

9

46

1998

Kevin Orie*

57

204

.181

2

21

1997

Kevin Orie

112

364

.275

8

44

1996

Leo Gomez

124

362

.238

17

56

1995

ToddZeile*

75

299

.227

9

30

1994

Steve Buechele*

99

339

.242

14

52

1993

Steve Buechele

129

460

.272

15

65

1992

Steve Buechele

63

239

.276

1

21

1991

Luis Salazar

86

333

.258

14

38

1990

Luis Salazar

91

410

.254

12

47

1989

Vance Law

119

408

.235

7

42

1988

Vance Law

150

556

.293

11

78

*Played for two teams in the season; Cubs stats only

Four's a Crowd
Hot-hitting Daryle Ward is odd man out in the Astros' loaded outfield

Daryle Ward's nickname in the Astros' clubhouse used to be Oscar, a nod to his thick Afro, which resembled outfielder Oscar Gamble's famously lush 1970s 'do. Then Ward showed up this spring with his hair in neatly braided rows, meaning that his teammates had to come up with a new moniker. "Moises [Alou] was calling me the Answer, after Allen Iverson, for a while," he says, "but that didn't really catch on."

Ward would answer to anything if it meant seeing his name on the lineup card every day. For an outfielder in Houston this year, this is what a .400 average and 10 RBIs in the season's first 12 games gets you: a seat on the bench. Such is life for the 25-year-old Ward, who, despite those impressive numbers, was headed for the pine as of Monday because regular outfielder Alou was scheduled to return from the disabled list. On most other clubs Ward's potent bat would earn him an every-day gig, but with the Astros he's just another slugging outfielder. Alou, Ward, centerfielder Richard Hidalgo and rightfielder Lance Berkman combined to make Houston's outfield the most productive (117 home runs and 366 RBIs) in the majors last season. Through Sunday that group (minus Alou, who went on the disabled list with a strained calf the last week of spring training) was second in the majors in RBIs with 32, a big reason that the 8-4 Astros were off to their best start since 1988.

The abilities of the 34-year-old Alou, a three-time All-Star who last year drove in more than 100 runs for the third time in his last three seasons, are well-known, and Hidalgo, now 25, revealed himself to be one of the game's rising stars with his 44-homer, 122-RBI performance in 2000. Relative unknowns Ward and Berkman, who hit 20 and 21 homers, respectively, last season (though neither had more than 353 at bats), give the Houston outfield extraordinary depth.

The switch-hitting Berkman, 25, is starting ahead of Ward because of his superior defensive skills. The Astros' top pick in the 1997 draft and originally a first baseman, Berkman rocketed through Houston's system after being shifted to the outfield four years ago. He was called up twice last year and appeared in 114 games. "At the winter meetings his name came up in trade talks more than anyone else's on our team," says Houston manager Larry Dierker. "We still had [outfielder] Roger Cede�o at the time, and everybody wanted Berkman, but nobody was going to get him."

Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker says he regularly fields calls from teams asking about Ward, whose graceful lefthanded swing is the envy even of such accomplished teammates as Alou, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. The son of former major leaguer Gary Ward, he too is a converted first baseman who mashed his way through the organization. After bouncing between the majors and minors in 1998 and '99, Ward stuck with the Astros all of last season. He showed his power but also frustrated Houston management with his lack of patience at the plate (15 walks in 281 plate appearances) and his ballooning weight. This winter the 6'2" Ward dropped about 10 pounds and reported to spring training at 235. "He worked hard on his own this off-season," says Hunsicker, who three years ago sent Ward to a weight-loss clinic at Duke. "He came to camp in the best shape we've ever seen him in."

"Daryle watches the game and knows the game, and he's got a great swing," says Biggio. "He can hit any pitch. If he gets the chance to play every day, he'll drive in a ton of runs."

Despite Ward's hot start that chance may be hard to come by this season: His at bats will come when Dierker rests Alou or first baseman Bagwell. Hunsicker insists he has no plans to deal any of his outfielders. "I'm not in the business of giving away assets," he says. "This is part of winning championships—creating quality depth on your team."

Twins Take Off
Break Out The Hankies?

There was a time when the Twins' home stadium was known as the Homer Dome, when Minnesota fans gleefully waved Homer Hankies every time one of their heroes bashed a ball out of the park. Such tales must sound like folklore to today's young fans—the Twins finished among the bottom three in the American League in home runs each of the past eight seasons—but there was Minnesota last week, reviving its power hitting past and hammering to the best start (9-2) in Twins history. Through Sunday, Minnesota had 15 homers, tied for fifth-most in the league.

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