Interview: Player Director Terry Collins

VERO BEACH, Fla.-- As Terry Collins, the Dodgers director of player development, prepared to enter Holman Stadium, he was recognized by two young fans, "They asked me, 'Have you come to take Andy from us?'", Collins recounted later. "I said, 'No, I haven't. On the other hand, you better not make dinner reservations with him in a couple of weeks.' "

In Vero Beach, they are used to having their star performers whisked away during the season so the status of Andy LaRoche is on everyone's mind. After all, he's been playing as if the Fantastic Four (or is it Five?) were molded into one person.

"I understand how they feel," said Terry. "I get it from both ends. In Los Angeles, they ask me how close he is to coming up."

"The answer is, yes, I know when he'll be promoted, but I can't say when." Told of the use of the word inevitable in discussing the likeliness of the move to Jacksonville, he commented, "That's a good way to put it. Yes, he's got to go up. I told him that when we sent him here we asked him to do certain things and he's done everything we asked.

"I believe he's got to be challenged. It's my job to see when it's a fit. For instance, we have Joel Guzman playing third a couple of times a week there now. I'd like to be able to flip-flop the two but LaRoche is not a shortstop."

Collins has been viewing each team in the system ever since spring training. Along the way he's seen some things he likes and, "As the director and a former manager, I've seen some I don't like."

"We think we've put some players out there that should compete very well at every level. Take Jacksonville. Guzman and D.Y. (Delwyn Young) are hitting. Russell Martin is playing great. (James) Loney hasn't been hitting although he's been doing better lately. But lots of times they don't do the things you have to do to win consistently.

"There will be the tying or winning run out there at second and someone will strike out or ground out. (Manager John) Shoemaker agrees with me. He says, 'I keep waiting for them to break out and go on a long winning streak. They win a game or two and I think the time has come. Then, they'll go back to losing.'

"At Columbus, they've lost a lot of one-run games† but those kids go out and bust themselves every night. We have some good players there -- (Blake) DeWitt, (Travis) Denker, (Jamie) Hoffmann, (Luke) May. The pitching has generally been good, too. They make mistakes but they never quit trying. They're a bunch of young kids competing in an older league."

Collins then settled back to watch Chuck Tiffany (another player Vero fears losing) come off the disabled list where he was idled for several weeks while recovering from having a mole removed from his back, to pitch well only to have the relievers collapse as first-place Vero was buried under an avalanche of runs. However, LaRoche uncoiled to launch another arcing shot far over the left field fence. It was his fifth straight game to do that, giving him a minor-league leading total of 18. In May, yet!

He was then excused for the rest of the evening. Collins could be pardoned if he were tempted to tell him to go home and pack.