Sergio Garcia -A Player Who Grows On You

Every so often there's a player in the system who's around so unobtrusively that occasionally you have to pause and wonder, "Is he still here?" For some time Sergio Garcia has been such a player. But, you know what? He's not only around, he's playing a lot better than most suspected he ever would.

Garcia had a couple of strikes against him when he first signed on. For one thing, he was an undrafted free agent- the kind they bring in to fill a spot for a year or two and then, almost always, depart.

For another he's only 5-9 and, you know how it is, little people have a hard time making an impression in most games where size can be an important factor. Let's face it. The day of the diminutive infielder pretty well died out about when Rabbit Maranville retired.

It's not that Garcia didn't make a good first impression. He did as a solid dependable player who was the MVP for the Gulf Coast Dodgers in 2002. But even then, they could say that he came from a strong program at Arizona State and players with that much experience shouldn't be in the Gulf Coast League to begin with.

And when he was moved up to Vero Beach the next summer and didn't hit at all, then went back to Columbus where he wasn't all that impressive, they could shrug and say that's about what was figured.

He managed to hang around, though- as a part-time infielder. He could play short, second, third with some skill so he was kept as a nice spare part. And that's what he seemed destined to be when he began 2006 sitting on the bench at Jacksonville.

He was moved up to Las Vegas in the middle of last summer when something seemed to click. Players were being shuffled in and out of the lineup at a rapid pace but when he got his chance he started hitting as never before. Well, maybe, he'd done it in college but that really didn't count.

He wound up playing in 71 games for the 51's, batting .328 and even showed some pop with eight home runs. That was more than enough to get him a shot with the team this spring.

As usual he opened the season sitting on the bench. But again, players moved around quickly- Andy LaRoche went up for at least awhile; Tony Abreu followed him and stayed. So, Garcia got into the lineup and just like he did the latter half of 2006, he hit- and kept on hitting.

Unfortunately, he developed an eye infection that put him on the disabled list for awhile. That's over now so he's back playing. And manager Lorenzo Bundy hasn't hesitated to start him because he's come to value how Garcia helps a club. After all, he's batting over .300 and already has seven home runs.

Sergio- who's a native of Arizona, by the way- is 27 now and may never get his chance in The Show. But don't bet on it. He might have been invited into the pro game for only a light lunch but he's proved to be a guy who can give you a full course meal.