Found -- A Home And Home Runs

Russell Mitchell knew what he had to do this season. For the longest time, though, he wasn't at all sure where he was going to get the chance to do it. Back in 2003 Mitchell, a kid from Cartersville, Ga., was so anxious to become a pro player that even though he was drafted down in the 15th round where the money isn't very good, he turned down a scholarship to Georgia Tech to join the Dodger system. He was a revelation that year, hitting .338 in the Gulf Coast League.

Last season he earned a promotion to Vero Beach where he was doing okay, hitting .249. However, he was a third baseman so when the organization wanted to promote Andy LaRoche from Columbus to play that position on an every day basis at Vero, Mitchell was shuffled downward to the South Atlantic League bastion. He didn't mind, he said, "As long as I get my at-bats."

He did that; however with disappointing results. His average plummeted to .201. What was of even more concern for the Dodgers was the fact that he didn't manage to hit one ball out of he yard at either stop that year. In fact, he had only one home run to show for his entire pro career and that simply would not do for a player at a position where a power output is a requisite.

So, Russ spent the off-season building himself up to get the required muscle. Trouble was he went a bit overboard -- or at least the coaches thought so for they felt in gaining strength, he had also packed on too many pounds. So, when spring training ended in early April, he wasn't assigned to a club going into action but, rather, left in the extended camp to work himself back into shape.

That he did, playing most every day. However, he looked at the situation at third with LaRoche at Vero and the also touted Blake DeWitt his replacement at Columbus and decided there was no future at that position. He asked if they'd consider him as an outfielder.

Instead, there was another twist. He'd been playing well; an infield opening occurred at Vero so he was assigned there. He wound out spelling LaRoche at third and also playing wherever required -- first base one day; second, the next. He also had the satisfaction of getting good wood on a fast ball and driving it over the Holman Stadium left-field fence for his second pro home run.

He filled the utility role so well at Vero, that when a similar situation developed at Jacksonville he was sent there. A role player who had his big moment when Joel Guzman, playing third, was kicked out of a game for protesting too much when called out for leaving third early on a fly ball. Russ went in and when his turn at bat came, walked up there with the bases loaded and promptly cleared them with a double. So, the headline in the Jacksonville paper the next day credited it to Russell Martin. He knew he did it.

By this time, the Dodgers wanted him playing every day. The only opening appeared to be at Ogden so it was down to the Pioneer League. Rookie ball in his third season. He didn't protest the comedown, though. Again, just give him a chance to swing a bat on a regular basis.

And is he ever doing it! They wanted home runs; well, he's showing that he's more than capable for he's hit eight out and that leads the league. He's in the cleanup slot, driving in 22 runs thus far -- and that's second in the league. His average is a solid .326.

Not surprisingly, he's happy. Sure, he's a long way from Georgia but he likes the team, the town and the fans. He's only 20 years old so he's still young and once more looking promising.

He's still playing third, too, for he's never had his outfield wish fulfilled. But, hey, when you hit like he has been lately, you know you're going to be in the lineup some place. And that's where Russ Mitchell wants to be.

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