Sunday, June 19, 2005


Woodling: KU has few ties to MLB


Everybody loves sports trivia, and I'm no exception, particularly when it comes to baseball or Kansas University men's basketball.

How about a trivia question involving both?

Name the lone current major league baseball player who has suited up and played basketball in Allen Fieldhouse.

I'll let you think for a second or two. Tick, tick, tick, tick. OK, time's up. Do you give up? It's a toughie.

The answer is Chris Young, a 6-foot-10 right-handed pitcher for the Texas Rangers. When, you ask, did he play in Allen Fieldhouse? The date was Dec. 22, 1999, and Young, a sophomore at the time, was the starting center for Princeton University.

Kansas won handily that night (82-67), but Young impressed with a team-high 20 points and six rebounds. That also was the last season Young played college basketball. The Pittsburgh Pirates picked him in the third round of the 2000 baseball draft and he signed, wiping out his college eligibility because Ivy League rules dictate that once you turn pro in one sport you're considered a pro in every sport.

Anyway, Young was traded to Montreal in 2002, then peddled to his hometown Rangers -- he's from Dallas -- in 2004. If you follow baseball closely, you know Young has sparkled with a 6-3 record and a 2.78 earned-run average.

I'm not sure how many other current professional baseball players once played against the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse, but I do know there's at least one more. Ryan Minor, the former two-sport standout at Oklahoma who once was touted as the successor to Cal Ripken in Baltimore, is on the roster of an independent-league team in Lancaster, Pa.

And now, some trivial information about former KU baseball players toiling in the minor leagues:

Les Walrond, the last former KU baseball player to put on a big-league uniform, is with the Florida Marlins' AAA farm club in Albuquerque, N.M. A left-handed pitcher, Walrond logged eight innings with the Royals in 2003.

Prior to Walrond, the last Jayhawk to appear in the big leagues was Jeff Berblinger, who had a demitasse with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1997. Berblinger, the second baseman on KU's 1993 College World Series team, only had five at-bats with St. Louis.

Coincidentally, the former Jayhawk closest to the major leagues right now also is an infielder who belongs to the Cardinals. John Nelson, who last played for KU in 2001, is the starting shortstop for the Cards' AAA farm team in Memphis, Tenn.

If St. Louis shortstop David Eckstein were to suffer an injury, the Cards could send a call for Nelson who, at last check, was hitting .282 with nine home runs, and only four errors in 58 games.

However, the 26-year-old Nelson's difficulty making contact in college has stayed with him in the pros. He's KU's career leader in strikeouts and currently ranks among the Pacific Coast League leaders in Ks.

Another former KU infielder now in the minor leagues has had whiff woes, too. Third baseman Travis Metcalf, KU's career home run leader, has fanned 66 times in 63 games with the Texas Rangers' Class A team in Bakersfield, Calif. At last check, Metcalf with batting .268.

The only other former KU position player in the minors right now -- or until the short-season leagues open next week -- is Brent Del Chiaro, who is hitting .173 as the backup catcher for the Angels' AA club in Little Rock, Ark. Del Chiaro was drafted in the 41st round by the Angels in 2001, the same year the Cardinals made Nelson their eighth-round selection.

Oh, and if you're wondering about Kevin Hooper, the former Lawrence High and Wichita State standout, he's with the Detroit Tigers' AAA farm in Toledo, Ohio. Hooper has played in about two-thirds of the Mud Hens' games, mostly in the infield, but he also has logged outfield duty for the first time in his career.


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