Lewis Making the Most of Things

When you're the MVP of a Double-A baseball league one year, you don't always anticipate being in that same league two years later. But that's exactly where Richard Lewis has found himself all year after a season-ending leg injury that followed a late promotion to Triple-A in 2004.

Lewis, now 26, is making the most of the opportunities he gets -- however scarce they sometimes are. He has appeared in 96 games this season at six different positions (first base, second, third, shortstop, left field and right field), plus designated hitter.

West Tenn manager Pat Listach, who knows a thing or two about playing more than one position himself after a six-year major league career with the Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros, often cites Lewis as a shining example of one of his toughest jobs as skipper of the Double-A club.

"It's fun for myself and for my career to be in this league," Listach said at the All-Star break from Montgomery, Ala. "The only thing that takes away from it is that I don't get to play a Richard Lewis or a [Brandon] Sing as much as I would like."

As frustrating as it is for someone that's still a gamer as Listach is, it's even more so for Lewis, a 2001 first-round draft pick by the Atlanta Braves from Georgia Tech.

An everyday player throughout his entire career, this is the first year where Lewis has not been guaranteed a starting position.

"I'd been an everyday player in every year of my career, so it's been an adjustment this year," Lewis admits. "I would obviously prefer to play at a higher level of baseball, but you have to control what you can control. I also want to play every day, but I understand we have a lot of guys that need to play every day. You take [playing] time when you can get it."

A quick check of Lewis' positional breakdown reveals that he has played in 41 games from the outfield this season. Entering 2006, the Marietta, Ga., native had never started a game outside of the infield in his five-year professional career.

He had never started at first base, either. Or shortstop. Second base was his position. It belonged to him.

"And it's still my favorite position," Lewis says. "But now I'm learning all of these new positions. It's been an interesting experience, getting to play them all. I think it's gone really well. "

At the plate, Lewis is batting .241 in 274 at-bats this season. He began the year on a good note, recording 16 hits in his first 54 at-bats for a .296 average in April. Since then, Lewis has posted monthly averages of .236 (May), .190 (June), .250 (July), and .239 (August).

"I've hit the ball a little better than my numbers show," Lewis contends. "But that's baseball and you can't do much about it. You just keep trucking."

If nothing else, Lewis has always been just that: a trucker. He rushed back from the leg injury to be ready to play his regular season opener a year ago for Iowa. He hit only .217 for the year there and was briefly sent back to West Tenn, and even Class-A Daytona for a three-game stint.

Many, including Lewis himself, feel that in hindsight, he may have returned too soon from such a rough injury. When he was first injured in the I-Cubs' regular season finale in early September of ‘04, both the Cubs and immediate media outlets (including this one) reported that Lewis had in fact suffered a broken leg in the days following the incident.

In an interview with Inside The Ivy last year, however, Lewis denied the leg was ever broken and said only that he had suffered various ligament/tissue damage.

Either way you slice it, all Lewis knows is that it was bar none the worst injury he's ever dealt with.

"Without a doubt," he said. "The effects are for the most part gone now, but it was still a major surgery.

"I think everything is pretty much behind me now."

Everything but his playing days, that is.

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