He's Leading Off And Loving It

Appearances, of course, often can be deceiving. You look at Jamie Hoffmann and there's a player who's 6-3, 210 and the notion is that here's a power-hitting guy, probably a bit slow but who has the muscles to deliver the long ball. Well, Hoffmann certainly possesses strength but big bashing is not his game. No, despite that size he's both quick and fast (There's a difference).

After that became evident in his rookie year, it was decided some major changes were in order to get the most out of him. So, he was pushed up in the batting order to become a leadoff man and, at the same time, switched from third base to the outfield. Not only to the outfield but to center where swiftness is absolutely required.

Not that Hoffmann had sputtered at the bat, either for in his rookie season he was the Gulf Coast team's go--to guy, a middle-of-the-order man that they loved to see come up with men on. He batted .310 and drove in 36 in 60 games so it was hardly that he failed at his task. But, well, despite that size, he managed only one home run and though the notion is that as he grows into the game, the long balls will be more frequent, his talents seemed better suited for the changes that were instituted.

Leading off wasn't anything that Hoffmann had done before but he took to it. "I like it," he maintains. "It's certainly different but you see a lot of fast balls, which is great. You have to figure out the pitchers because you're setting the table for the team so there's a lot to do. You have to see what pitches he has, where the shortstop stands, things like that.

"I went to (Columbus teammate) Dan Batz, who had done it and got advice. At first I took a lot of pitches but later I went after the ball more. I'm a spray, gap-type hitter and as things went along I got better at it."

Jamie's changed his batting style a bit, getting his hands back more and for a second season produced, hitting .308 at Columbus before a late-season promotion to Vero Beach. There, admittedly, "I was tight at first but after a couple of games I loosened up." At Vero he was moved around in the order and wound up with a .241 mark.

He's always produced on the bases. In the Gulf Coast, he stole 14 out of 19; this year he was 10 for 14 at Columbus, 2-for-3 at Vero so the running part of the game that managers particularly like to see in leadoff types is there. The home runs are still an item waiting to happen for he slammed only two this year, one for each team.

The real revelation is how well he's taken to the outfield, a place he was never stationed before. He has the pure knack of getting jumps on fly balls, something that seems instinctive in him. He explains it simply enough, "I figure you're just standing around out there so when they hit the ball you should just go catch it."

He wowed Vero fans late in the season with two spectacular grabs. On a ball hit into the right-center gap, a seemingly sure extra-base knock, he took off and simply outran the ball for an over- the- shoulder catch. On another he came in on a bloop that seemed destined to fall, and grabbed it with a sprawling stab. Both were the kind of highlight plays that Jim Edmunds is noted for.

He's now one of the more promising outfielders in the chain which is quite an accomplishment for anyone but particularly so for one that was never drafted. That was not because he hadn't displayed abilities before for he was the Minnesota Class AAA Player of the Year as a senior.

It's just that most everyone figured he was destined for hockey, where as a defenseman he had such promise that he was chosen by the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL draft and had accepted a scholarship to play for Colorado College which has one of the nation's best programs in the ice sport.

He abandoned playing that game though after being spotted by the Dodgers playing American Legion ball over the summer. He's hardly sorry about the career change. Besides now he's back home in New Ulm, Minn., eager to see the latest ice phenom, Sidney Crosby play.

Corsby, who plays for Pittsburgh, is touted as the one who'll bring the NHL back to glory for they're saying that he's certainly the next Wayne Gretsky. "That's like saying you're the next Babe Ruth," Hoffmann notes.

Nobody expects Hoffmann to be the next Babe. If he turns out to be something like Rickey Henderson, though, that would be more than enough.