That's hardly a unanimous opinion for many see Russell Martin as the rising star behind the plate. So, where does all this leave Mike Nixon?">
That's hardly a unanimous opinion for many see Russell Martin as the rising star behind the plate. So, where does all this leave Mike Nixon?">

Mike Nixon Wants in Dodger Catching Scheme

<b>VERO BEACH, Florida</b>-- The current Dodger catching situation is very much in doubt. To prepare for tomorrow they spent a lot of time over the winter pursuing Dioner Navarro of the Yankees. When they finally obtained him, he was immediately dubbed "the catcher of the future."<br> <br> That's hardly a unanimous opinion for many see Russell Martin as the rising star behind the plate. So, where does all this leave Mike Nixon?

You remember Mike. When he spurned a football scholarship to UCLA to sign a $1million dollar contract with the Dodgers in 2002, it looked like he was going to be the man behind the plate in L.A. down the road. Now, though, that road appears to have taken a twist.

"The catching situation has obviously changed from when I signed," Nixon agrees. "What their thinking is I can't control. What I can control is making my game better to the point that someone wants me. If that's the Dodgers, great. If not, hopefully someone else."

Los Angeles was able to pick Nixon in the third round only because other teams felt sure he was football bound. After all, he was Gatorade Player of the Year for Arizona in 2001 sought by a number of major programs as either a quarterback or safety. An outstanding all-around athlete, he also punted and returned punts for his grid team, and starred in basketball. When he hit .543 as a senior on the diamond, the Dodgers were able to convince him that baseball was his future so he turned his back on UCLA and signed.

It's a decision that he 's not at all sorry to have made. "Oh, I miss football, no question. It makes for a long fall. But do I regret my choice ? Never. It was the right decision."

But all that other athletic activity has slowed his progress in his chosen sport. "I never played baseball over the summer or winter so I'm behind in that," he says. And that time spent a classy quarterback (both Arizona State and Notre Dame among others recruited him for that position) has been a handicap as a catcher.

Oh, he has the bravura arm for the position without a doubt. However, habits ingrained in football such as coming upright quickly and taking the ball back before getting rid of it, have made his release time slow. Some feel his best chance may be at another position.

He's played some outfield and may well play more in the coming days. "Definitely," he agrees. "The plan is that I'll get more time out there which will give me a break from catching. Also, it gives me a versatility which will help me as well."

At the plate, Mike flashes a lot of potential although right now he's known as a streak hitter, a label he 's inclined to agree with. "This past year I started cold, then I got hot, really hot. But I was cold again down the stretch which is not the way you want to end a season."

That was at Columbus in the South Atlantic League where he spent a second season, winding up .261-5-50. The average has been in decline since he broke in hitting .311 at Great Falls in 2001. In 2002 he averaged .274 at South Georgia. However, he's begun showing flashes of power for he only bopped one out in each of the previous seasons.

He's been steadily acquiring knowledge, though. "Each year I'm learning. I know 100 percent more than when I started."

After two years in the South Atlantic League, he's ready to move up. Current thinking would have Navarro stationed at Las Vegas, Martin at Jacksonville and Nixon taking over at Vero Beach. That's where he wants to be. \line
"I want to make that roster. I hope to have a good spring and get a lot more swings as the season goes on. And I'm happy being a Dodger for sure."

The Dodgers, in turn, are happy to have him around as well. He may not be getting the attention the other two are these days but he's still very much a player to keep in mind.

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