Repko Ready to Prove His Time Has Come

<b>VERO BEACH, Florida</b>-- The road to the Dodger roster for Jason Repko that had started out as a smooth, straight highway soon became a twisted path full off potholes. But now that he's arrived, he 's hardly bitter about the experience, especially when he considers the alternative.

"I had so many injuries along the way there were times when I wasn't sure that I'd ever have a career," he notes today. "But I kept working and now I really think the experience factor has helped me a lot."

Repko was L.A.'s first-round draft choice as a shortstop out of Hanford, Wash., High in 1999. Sent to Great Falls, he flourished, hitting .304, showing a solid combination of speed and power. But even that season was cut short by a practice session collision with a teammate.

He came back from that, only to have a hamstring pop when he was racing to score in a spring training game. That limited him to eight games in 2000. After that there was a succession of back problems so severe that sometimes it was almost impossible for him to get out of bed, let alone play. In 2001, he was able to get in only 88 games for Wilmington, his batting average falling to .220.

In 2002, while playing for Vero Beach, the decision was made to switch him to center field, one made in part because it was felt that would ease the back troubles, which were aggravated by the bending and twisting that playing short entailed. His batting mark improved to .272, he made the mid-season all-star game and it seemed he was on his way. However, when moved up to Jacksonville in 2003, he fell off to .240 and there were those who began to write him off as a prospect.

But the move to the outfield had begun to help matters, even though, he was to start 2004 at Jacksonville again. "It did ease the pressure on my back," he notes, "but, you know, it was a switch that I always felt would happen anyway. I'd played some outfield in high school and when I used to dream about playing in the big leagues, I always saw myself as an outfielder, not as a shortstop."

When he wasn't promoted at the start of the season, he began making adjustments. "I shortened my swing, made it more level and compact. It was quicker to the ball than I'd been." His batting mark profited for it rose to .291 and his new look caused the Dodgers to promote him to Las Vegas at mid-season.

There, "I had an adjustment period of just about two weeks. The pitchers at that level are smarter and work spots so much better. But the experience I had gained helped me." It did to the tune of a .311 batting mark, earning him the hot prospect label once again and a trip to the Arizona Fall League where he not only prospered, he excelled, tying for the league lead in home runs.

Along the way he played center field in a sometimes spectacular fashion. Like the game in Tucson when, "it was late in the game, they loaded the bases and there was a drive to my right. I took off and when I looked up, I thought 'No way can I catch up to the ball'. But I just ran as hard as I could and, at the last minute, dove and stretched out. The ball came down in my glove."

The kind of catch that had it been made in the big leagues would have made the highlight films for weeks. And one that's an example of how Repko plays the game.

"I've always played hard. I just don't think there's any other way to do it."

So, at age 24, he's here at last. For the first time, too, for he was never even a non-roster invitee before. And he labored just as hard in the off-season to get ready. "I worked out six days a week. Mostly indoors because of the weather in Washington but I hit at indoor cages and really prepared myself.

"I feel great. As good as I ever have. My back doesn't bother me at all." And he came to camp early, as well.

His goal this spring? "To make it up, of course. That's how all the players feel and I think I have a shot. I'll play as hard as I can and try to show them what I can do. And, if I'm sent back to Vegas, well, I'll play hard there, too, and be ready if they need me."

Repko brings a lot to the game in addition to that desire for he's rated among the fastest in the organization. The road might have been longer and filled with more sharp curves that first expected but he's the better man for it, a player with intensity and skills that could well take him the rest of the way.