He Fields Like His Dad And He Can Hit, Too

On an island with the climate it enjoys and the tradition it has in the game, you'd think that Puerto Rico would be a land of strong high school baseball. But take it from Ivan DeJesus, Jr., that's not the case at all." They have some teams but not like here -- maybe 10 players on some."

Fortunately for those who take the game seriously, there's the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy started a few years ago by Edwin Correa. You may remember Edwin, a pitcher of great promise with the Rangers before he blew his arm out; later, a coach in the Dodger system. When Edwin returned home and saw the lack of facilities for the young hopefuls, he founded the school. Ivan went there two years.

Was the baseball good?

"Oh, yes, but the education was not so good. I understand that they're working on that, though."

This Ivan knows the game for he's the son of Ivan, Sr., who rose through the Dodger system, made it up then was traded to the Cubs in a deal in which he and Bill Buckner were sent to Chicago for Rick Monday. He subsequently went on to a 15-year big league career, playing for seven teams in all before he was done.

Now, the senior DeJesus is a manager in the Houston chain, coming home each year to do the same in the winter league there. And spend a lot of time with his son." I never saw him in the big leagues but I did at home in the winter leagues." Naturally, enough, the junior DeJesus spent more than a little time on the field with his dad. "It was great. I got to shag flies and all that".

Dad was ready with playing tips, too for son is a shortstop just like his father, Junior became the best young player on the island, one the Dodgers were happy to get with the second-round draft pick they obtained from the Mariners as compensation for losing Adrian Beltré.

"I was ready," he said so signed and spent the first part of the summer with the Gulf Coast team (along with another Academy grad, pitcher Wilfredo Diaz). There he displayed his dad's skills at short with range, arm and quick reactions. What's more, he did something his pop had trouble with -- hit.

"I think line drive-line drive, just hit the ball somewhere," he says. He slashed away for a .342 average, second only to teammate Eduardo Perez's league-leading .352. All this earned him a trip up to Ogden where he immediately stepped into the lineup when Juan Rivera was injured.

"I liked it a lot at Ogden," he enthuses. "Great fans with little kids coming up and asking for your autograph. And we got into the playoffs."

Although a late slump there brought him to a .205 Pioneer League average, he contributed. His best days? One in the Gulf Coast where "I went 4-for-4 with two doubles a triple and four RBI" and one at Ogden where, "I went 3-for-5 with three RBI."

See, he can show the old man something about swinigng a bat. He's got a quick stroke with good hitting mechanics.

Of course in Puerto Rico, they can and do play the game year around. However, "We only play weekends there. Here you play every day with maybe one day off a month." Still, if it's a grind, it's one he loves and has well prepared for.

He did it so well that managers in both league s named him one of the top prospects around. A compact 5-10, 175, he'll probably never be a home run hitter but he's shown that he gives the Dodgers some more depth at short.

And if, say, he's moved eventually to second? "I don't care. I just try to get ready for everything."

He's just finished in the Instructional League. Now, if Hurricane Wilma will oblige, it's back home for more baseball sessions with his dad.