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Pro Ball Had Its Grip on Coaches

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Prep mentors grateful for their opportunities in minors leagues

The memory, now 22 years old, remains as vivid today as it was then.

The young man, fresh out of college, had been selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 23rd round of the 1990 amateur draft.

When he arrived in Phoenix after signing, a club representative drove him to the team’s spring training facility in Peoria. He was handed his gear and shown the way to his locker.

Roy Orbison was on the clubhouse speaker, singing “Pretty Woman.”

“I was sitting there,” Orlando Griego said, “and I was enjoying the song, and it was a very surreal moment for me. I had so many peaks and valleys as a baseball player, so many people in my life who told me I wouldn’t make it.”

But he did. He was a professional baseball player.

This time of year, that story has more relevance. Seattle and Oakland’s two-game series in Asia last week notwithstanding, tonight is officially Opening Day for Major League Baseball.

Around the metro area, Griego, and a handful of coaches like him, reflected on their years as pros.

“I miss it,” said 41-year-old Lauro Felix, a Rio Rancho High volunteer assistant who had 12 minor league seasons. “This time of year is kind of depressing. But working with the kids helps quite a bit.”

Among head coaches, Griego (Rio Grande), Valley’s Chad Kuhn and Volcano Vista’s Kevin Andersh all played professionally. Griego’s career was extremely brief: He was released by Milwaukee his second season.

“I played long enough for them to figure I wasn’t very good,” Griego, 44, said with a laugh.

“Every year at this time brings back such wonderful memories,” said Kuhn, who was actually drafted twice. He went in the 12th round in 1987 to Oakland, turned down a six-figure signing bonus, then signed for $1,000 the next summer as a 31st-round pick of San Diego.

“The way we were treated as young men, I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to play this game,” Kuhn, 46, said.

Andersh grew up in South Dakota but played baseball at UNM. He was a first-round pick of the Pirates in 1984, going No. 15 overall. But he – like Kuhn, Griego, Felix and Volcano assistant Rob Hicks – never played a day in the majors.

“Being a first-rounder, and when it was all said and done, I would say it’s disappointing,” said Andersh, 48, a left-handed pitcher.

“Getting drafted in that position and that round, you feel a little embarrassed to some degree that you never got an opportunity to play in the big leagues. I would have liked to have played one day, just to say I was there.”

A rotator cuff injury helped dash Andersh’s big league aspirations; Kuhn, also a left-handed pitcher (converted from a position player), had similar injury problems.

But Kuhn does have one especially amusing anecdote about a tryout with the A’s after his release by the Padres.

It was on a Super Bowl weekend in Phoenix. Thinking the tryout was to show off his bat, he had beefed up to 226 pounds.

“Tony LaRussa was there with (pitching coach) Dave Duncan. They were amazed with the physicality I came in with. They looked at my agent and (told him they would) sign me as a pitcher. Tony LaRussa asked me what this bicep was all about. I told him,” Kuhn said, laughing, “that I thought I was gonna be one of the Bash Brothers.”

Felix joined the Rams’ staff this season. He played professionally in the U.S. and Mexico. He was drafted in the 49th round by the A’s in 1992.

“I thought I had a legitimate shot,” Felix said. “Even though I wish I could have played, I have no regrets.”

Felix is now working the third base box for the Rams.

Hicks, who had eight seasons as a La Cueva assistant, is in his third year with Andersh at Volcano Vista. He was a pitcher, too, signed as a free agent by the Phillies. He was in their organization from 1984-88, but never advanced past Triple-A.

“I do have a recurring dream that I do get called up and I walk into the Phillies clubhouse,” said Hicks, 49. “And the feeling I have inside that I have in the dream, when I wake up it probably doesn’t even compare to what it felt like last year when Jordan (Pacheco, a former La Cueva standout) got called up by the Rockies.”

— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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