Baseball's a Family Affair For Steve Sapp

A few years ago, major league baseball, becoming concerned that inner city athletes all seemed to be playing basketball and football while scorning the diamond, decided to do something about it. They came up with a progam called RBI -- Reviving Baseball in the Inner City. The Dodgers have been extremely active in it, refiurbishing fields, donating equipment, conducting clinics. Now, they've started getting some returns.

The first product of the porgram to join the organization came when outfielder Steve Sapp was drafted and signed in 2003. Not that he neded some outside incentive to become a player. Not at all for baseball has always been a family affair in his household. His dad is a lifetime buddy of Darryl Starwberry's; his godfather is Eric Davis; his cousin Brandon Watson plays pro ball.

So, even though he played basketball at West Torrance High in an L.A. suburb, he didn't hesitate when the Dodgers picked him in the 17th round. "I always thought this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity so I took it," he relates. After all, he'd resisted joining the gangs that were around, hoping that his talent would shine through as it did.

So he joined the Gulf Coast Dodgers then. But here he is, three years later, still in the same league which you might think would make him a senior citizen among his teammates. Yet, he's still a teenager -- won't be 20 until November.

Oh, make no mistake. Being stuck here this long gets wearisome so he longs for the chance to prove himself at a higher level. He did have a couple of opportunities last season but the fickle finger of fate seemed to intervene.

He had been called up as an injury replacement to Vero Beach, was scheduled to start, warmed up, only to have the rain fall on that parade. The game was cancelled before a pitch was thrown and he wound up across Dodgertown, back in the Gulf Coast the next day. Later he was summoned to Columbus, was there for about a dozen games but only got into five of those while managing just one hit.

Here he is once more but this time demonstrating the steady improvement that represents his game. He hit .248 as a rookie, .255 last year but is swinging the bat at a lusty .362 pace now. The problem is that on this team, everybody's got to get into action to see what he can produce so the outfielders don't play on a steady basis regardless of their numbers. "Means a lot of off days, " admits Steve.

His attitude is, "I've got to be ready so when I get in there, I can make the most of it." Playing under the hot Florida sun means, "You get tired, both physically and mentally." The night games for this team are a scattered few about which he says, "I wish we played more games at 7," a thought shared by all on the squad.

"I've got to show patience," Steve maintains while longing for the break to come so he can move up. He's built himself up to a solid 6-3 1/2, 200 pounds, he's adept at all three outfield slots and, what's most important, he's certainly playing like one who's ready to do it