Playing the Waiting Game

VERO BEACH, Fla.-- As the extended spring sessions head toward the June 4 break-camp day the players speculate about their destinations for the season for few have had the official word. Ryan Carter is among those, something he really hadn't counted on.

Carter, an outfielder, had reasons to believe he would have been with a club by now, getting official at-bats instead of those in this camp. Oh, they play other teams on a regular basis but the results aren't going to be in a record book anyplace for this miniature league almost seems at times like one played in Oz. Is it real or something I'm dreaming?

"This is my fifth year in the organization and I haven't played a single game as high as A ball," said Carter rather ruefully the other day. True, enough, though there are extenuating circumstances for you won't find his record for the fourth of those years anyplace, either. That's because he didn't play in 2004 at all.

Flash back for a moment to 2003. It had been a breakout year for Ryan. The previous season, he'd been hurt a lot and only got into 18 games for Great Falls, batting only .239. But the next season, with the Dodgers now affiliated with Ogden in that same Pioneer League, he found the range. Did he, ever.

In June he hit .390 (16-for-41). In July he drove in 21 runs for the month while hitting .362. In the regular season finale, he finished with a flourish, going 4-for-4 including a home run. For the season he batted .313 and hit seven home runs in 49 games, both tying for best among all Dodger short-season players. Truly, he seemed on the way.

However, his sore right arm only got worse until it was decided that shoulder surgery was necessary. So, instead, of moving up to A ball as expected in 2004, he spent his time re-habbing the injury at the minor league facilities in Vero Beach.

Now, there were worse places for Carter to be than Vero for he had met and married a girl from that town. (He himself is a native Floridian from Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast side of the state.) So, he went through the rigors of recovery all the time anticipating the next season when his career would resume.

He had a good spring training, hitting well and showing that his shoulder had recovered and that he could throw well. It looked like he'd be assigned to Vero Beach's entry in the Florida State League. Couldn't be better, he thought. Instead there was some last-minute shuffling and he was left in the extended camp to rehab some more.

He's been hitting the ball well there. Although the stats like everything else are not official, he was batting around .500 and displaying power at the same time. Those blasts he drove over the practice field fences at Dodgertown were very real.

A slump inevitably occurred. "I had to adjust a few things in my swing," he recounted and came out of it nicely. However, there simply weren't any openings on a full-season team available so he continued to play-and wait his chance.

Now, he's hoping for Columbus. "They're short an outfielder there," he says. Maybe, though, it might be Ogden again. Nice place to play with good facilities and a great fan base. But he's been there, done that so you can't blame him for wanting more.

Oh, he can run, too. Stole eight bases in nine tries in that last year he played for real. A 14th round pick in the 2001 draft, he's 22 now, in great shape, a righthanded hitter with knowledge and ability. Wherever he winds up, he's more than determined to put up some numbers that are more than respectable.

Meanwhile, like the others in the camp, he counts the days until that happens.