Denker's A Hand(y) Hitter For Sure

Travis Denker is listed at 5-9, 170. He weighs more-about 185 -- but still he's a little man who often plays a big game when it comes to driving a ball for distance. How does he do it? For Denker, it's all in the hands.

"I try to get my hands out in front when I swing," he says as he demonstrates. "Coaches will talk to you about getting your legs into it and I know that my back leg may be behind a little. Tommy Lasorda teaches how to get the barrel of the bat out in front. But for me, it's getting my hands through the zone quickly. If my hands are out in front when I hit the ball, then it works."

It certainly worked this past season when he powered 21 balls out while spending the bulk of his time at Columbus. There he wound up with a .310 average, becoming the only member of the Catfish team, to become a South Atlantic League All-Star.

Denker was happy with that; not so with the last part after he was promoted to Vero Beach. "They expected me to hit and I didn't. I was trying to do too much every at-bat because I knew what the expectations were. I didn't know the pitchers and I pressed too much." He wound up with a lowly .185 mark with Vero with just two home runs.

Hitting the ball hard has been Denker's trade mark. He certainly did when, invited to a pre-draft tryout at Dodgers Stadium, he put on an impressive show. "I had played at the stadium only once before in an all-star game and don't remember hitting all that well. This time, though I was hitting the ball up in the blue seats.

"Afterwards, the Dodgers talked to me, indicating they would draft me about the sixth round but when draft day came, I waited and didn't hear my name called. It wasn't until the second day when they started with the 21st round, they drafted me. I said, 'Well, in a way I'm a first-rounder.'

" Seriously, I had a scholarship to the University of Hawaii and I thought a lot about it, then decided I'd be better off turning pro now so I signed. "

That was in 2003 when he played well enough for the Gulf Coast Dodgers, hitting .279 with three homers that he earned a brief promotion to South Georgia. The next season, he began the year on the bench at Ogden, quickly earned a starting spot, then started hitting the long ball that got him noticed, finishing the year with 12.

This was a prelude to his performance at Columbus. Now, in the Instructional League, he's working among other things on his fielding, which is the shakiest part of his repertoire.

One thing that wasn't happening in this camp for awhile was those shots disappearing into the distance. When someone commented that he hadn't really seen something like that, he answered, "You're right, I haven't. I'm trying to improve my plate coverage, taking the outside pitch to right, hitting behind the runner, things like that, and I've fouled up my swing."

If so, it wasn't a permanent disability. That day, he came up with two men on and drove a pitch over the left-field fence at Holman Stadium. The next day, in an intra-squad affair, he came up with the bases loaded, and sent a 94-mile-an-hour Jumbo Diaz delivery out even farther.

Those hands were out in front, no doubt.