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Dozing off at my desk when I hear footsteps fast approaching:



Published: Mon, June 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Dozing off at my desk when I hear footsteps fast approaching:

"We just got word that the Cleveland Indians want to field a minor league all-star team with former Mahoning Valley Scrappers," the editor barks.

"Hurry, and pick this team."

Accepting the assignment, I reflect on the talent that has walked through the Cafaro Field gates in the past two years. A number of players worthy of this distinct honor comes to mind.

On the mound: The starting pitcher may be the easiest position to fill, as left-hander C.C. Sabathia gets the call -- although it is hard to pass up the likes of Kyle Evans, Simon Young, Brandon Matheny, Brian Tallet and Anthony Marini.

On a rehabilitation assignment at Mahoning Valley for an injured elbow in 1999, Sabathia, then a 6-foot-7, 235-pound 18-year-old, made six starts, allowing four earned runs in 192/3 innings.

After moving swiftly up the minor-league ladder, the overpowering Sabathia donned a Cleveland Indians uniform this season and made his major league debut.

If Sabathia is on his game and lasts seven or eight innings for our team, Brian Jackson will be called upon to slam the door. He had 11 saves last season, fourth best in the New York-Penn League.

If Sabathia fatigues early, we'll go to reliever Steve Donaghey to work some innings. Who can argue with his 3-1 record and 2.17 earned run average in 49 innings last season?

Sabathia will throw to catcher Victor Martinez, who should provide some offensive punch in the lineup.

Around the horn: Jeff Haase, an Ohio native, will play first base. We liked his maturity and his reasoning that eating bags of carrots helped him see the ball better.

Our choice at second base might bring out the critics because Joe Inglett should get the nod.

But, on the basis of his dramatic 11th-inning home run that kept the Scrappers alive in last season's New York-Penn League championship series -- arguably the biggest hit in Cafaro Field's two-year history -- Henry Pichardo is our man.

Although Chris Lotterhos was a fan favorite at shortstop, we're going to cheat just a bit to pencil in John McDonald.

McDonald was at Mahoning Valley for a short time rehabilitating a leg injury, but he has the experience of being in the Indians' clubhouse and at Triple-A Buffalo. Plus, we love his arm.

Guarding the corner at third base will be Nate Grindell, who batted .315 with team highs in hits (84) and RBIs (47) during the 1999 season.

A guy we can rally around for inspiration is Nate Janowicz in left field. Listed at a generous 5-foot-10, "Little Jano," as he was referred to, batted .340 last season with a team-high 90 hits.

Speed is essential. Therefore, Alexander Requena will play center field. He had a league-best 44 stolen bases in '99.

Joining Janowicz and Requena in the outfield will be Ryan Church, who had his share of big hits for Mahoning Valley last season. He batted .298 with a league-best 65 RBIs and 10 home runs.

Jorge Moreno and his .435 slugging percentage, which he recorded in '99, will fill the designated hitter role.

Even if Ted Kubiak hadn't managed the Scrappers the past two seasons, it would be hard not to pick him to lead this team.

Kubiak was a proven winner and motivator, and the players and media always knew where they stood with him.

Assignment complete: "That wasn't hard," I tell my superior. "The talent level was high in both seasons. How else do you explain two Pinckney-Stedler Division titles and trips to the league championship series?"

"Good," my fearless leader responds. "Then get out there and evaluate the others."

I look outside. The sun is shining and the temperature has warmed. It's June, already.

The Scrappers class of 2001 has come to Niles. Tuesday, the first pitch will be thrown.

XBrian Richesson is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write to him at richesson@vindy.com.




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