A. Boone staking claim to third

Sunday, August 30, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Aaron Boone is hitting .286 since he was called up.
(Ryan Miller photo)
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It is supposed to be the other way around. A player's average usually goes down after a promotion.

Not with Aaron Boone. The Reds third baseman hit .241 at Triple-A Indianapolis; he's hitting .286 since he was called up to Cincinnati on July 31.

So what gives?

"Maybe it's because he's facing better pitching up here," Reds manager Jack McKeon said.

Whatever it is, it would appear Boone has played himself into contention for the third baseman's job in 1999.

"Absolutely," Reds General Manager Jim Bowden said. "He's contending for it right row."

His main competition is Paul Konerko, the power hitter Reds obtained from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Jeff Shaw deal. Konerko has been playing third at Indianapolis since Boone was recalled. With Sean Casey set at first, and Dmitri Young set in left field, third base looks like the competitive spot. But a trade remains a possibility.

"Obviously, if Aaron Boone, Sean Casey, Dmitri Young and Paul Konerko continue to play well," Bowden said, "they'll have to be a trade. We'd do that when we could get something we need, like starting pitching."

Konerko has hit well at Indianapolis -- .309, five homers, 28 RBI in 29 games. He'll be called up Sept. 1 when the rosters are expanded, Bowden said.

"He would have been called up sooner," Bowden said, "if one them -- Casey, Young or Boone -- had failed."

Boone got his opportunity when Pokey Reese, who won the third base job (for this season at least), broke his thumb.

"You don't want it to happen that way," Boone said. "But all you want is an opportunity."

If Konerko hadn't been struggling with the Reds, Boone might not have gotten the chance. Immediately after the trade, Konerko was given the third base job.

Boone was concerned about other things.

Boone was starting to come out of his slump when he was called up. He hit .318 in his last 21 games in Triple-A.

Once at Cincinnati, he put together a nine-game hitting streak in which he hit .394. He has hits in 19 of his 25 games with the Reds, including the past five.

Boone, 25, is four years younger than his brother, Bret, the Reds second baseman. But Aaron is a bigger man (6-foot-2, 200 pounds, compared to 5-10, 180) with better power numbers in the minors. Aaron hit 17 homers and 44 doubles in 1996 at Double-A and 22 HRs and 30 doubles in Triple-A last year.

"Let's not get carried away after 20 games," McKeon said of Aaron's performance. "We saw it with guys last year."

Eduardo Perez, Chris Stynes and Jon Nunnally all earned starting job for 1998 by playing well at the end of 1997. But all three lost them by struggling early in '98.

"There are a lot of one-year phenomenons," McKeon said. "To be good, you've got to do it consistently. But (Aaron) seems to be adjusting better this year."

Boone thinks those two horrible months at Indianapolis, where he struggled to hit stay above .200, helped him.

"I had never been through that," he said. "I went through the minor leagues pretty easily. I hadn't had many bumps in the road. Sometime struggling can help more than success . . . if you learn from it. I think I learned from it."

Aaron Boone's adjustment to the majors has been easier because his brother plays just across the infield.

"It helps," he said. "Not so much on the field, but with the other stuff. Like I didn't have to worry about getting a place to stay. It helps having a veteran on the team who is your brother."

Boone's grandfather, Ray, and father, Bob, also played in the majors, so the Boones are constantly making baseball history. For example, one night, Bret and Aaron could become the first brothers to hit back-to-back homers since Paul and Lloyd Waner did it in 1938.

"We'll look back on historical stuff later and enjoy it," Aaron said.

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