The catcher is out to prove to some people that he belongs at a higher level.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NILES -- Angel Bastardo has grown accustomed to battling injuries. Still, he has taken a positive, productive approach with his most recent setback.
"I love this league, and I love the fans of the Mahoning Valley," said Bastardo, a Mahoning Valley Scrappers catcher who has returned for his second season.
Bastardo could be considered a veteran. He's entering his fourth professional season after signing as a free agent in 1998, when he began his career at Rookie League Burlington.
Knee injury: But, he's been beset by injuries. His most recent, a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee, is the reason Bastardo found himself back at Mahoning Valley.
"He ended up here as a result of a lack of positions because [other] guys are doing pretty good jobs," Scrappers manager Dave Turgeon said. "He lost his job rehabbing.
"He's recovered and he's healthy, and he's out to prove to some people that he belongs at a higher level."
Bastardo tore the ligament March 14. It took him six weeks to recover and start playing again. He went to the Cleveland Indians' extended spring training program in Winter Haven, Fla., and slowly worked his way back into game shape.
"My knee is pretty good; it's healthy and I think it's stronger right now," said Bastardo, who resides in Sandusky with his wife, Gina, in the off-season.
Leadership role: Don't count out Bastardo, the Venezuela native, whose approach to the game just might put him back on track.
"I'm trying to be a leader and teach [my teammates] everything I know," Bastardo said. "I think I can help them a lot. Doing that, I can become a better player and a better person.
"I'm just happy to teach those guys the difference between college and pro ball."
Bastardo batted .240 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs in 51 games at Burlington in '98.
He began the '99 season at Burlington before being promoted to Class A full-season Columbus later in the year.
Last year with the Scrappers, Bastardo batted .176 with two home runs and 25 RBIs.
Entering Saturday night's home opener against Williamsport at Cafaro Field, Bastardo played in two of the Scrappers' four games, with one hit in six at-bats and two RBIs.
Show of strength: If there's one thing Bastardo knows, it's resiliency and how to stay strong mentally despite adversity.
In his first year in pro baseball, he underwent rotator cuff surgery. Then came tendinitis in his elbow and a broken foot. Now, it's the MCL.
Bastardo will use the time in the lower levels of the minor leagues to work on his skills. He wants to improve his hitting and continue to learn how to call a good game behind the plate.