Sunday, December 05, 1999

Sexton hopes versatility will earn Reds spot


The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Chris Sexton has learned that in the rarefied atmosphere of major league baseball, there's no shame in being a utilityman.

        “Because,” said Sexton, citing an obvious but frequently ignored fact, “you have good players in the big leagues.”

        The St. Xavier High School and Miami University graduate quickly added, “Look at the Reds in the middle. You've got great players.”

        Since the Reds boast Barry Larkin at shortstop, Pokey Reese at second base and Mike Cameron (or Ken Griffey Jr.) in center field, Sexton's eye for talent was sharp. He'll get a closer look at these Reds and others when he rejoins the team in spring training. Sexton, 28, was drafted in the 10th round by the Reds in 1993 and traded to the Colorado Rockies for right-hander Marcus Moore two years later.

        Sexton, who signed with the Reds as a free agent after Colo rado dropped him from its 40-man roster, will contend for a spot as a reserve infielder and outfielder.

        Since the Reds prefer to keep Reese at second during Larkin's rare absences, Sexton could find a backup niche as a shortstop, his natural position. Jeffrey Hammonds' departure to Colorado in the Dante Bichette trade created an opening for a spare center fielder, a role Sexton handled briefly with the Rockies. Sexton also has played second and third base.

        After playing every day for six years in the minors, Sexton adjusted to spot duty as a Rockies rookie. He credited fellow reserves Lenny Harris and Kurt Abbott and hitting coach Clint Hurdle, a former extra man, for helping him cope.

        “One thing I have going for me is versatility,” said Sexton, who hit .237 in 35 games with Colorado and .339 in 60 games for Triple-A Colorado Springs this year. “I feel like I crossed a bridge. I was comfortable everywhere I played this year.”

        Sexton's most immediate competition would appear to be Chris Stynes, one of manager Jack McKeon's favorite players. But Stynes is among 10 Reds eligible for salary arbitration and would be cut loose if he and the club can't agree on a contract.

        Sexton won't assume anything. That's the mindset of a utility player, who never knows when he'll get his next at-bat.

        “I don't want to make any bold proclamations,” Sexton said. “I just want to compete and show them I can play a variety of positions.”

        CONSOLATION PRIZE: The Reds missed out on the playoffs but not on the postseason loot.

        Finishing second in the Na tional League Central Division meant an extra $8,383.04 to 43 players, staffers and other full-time personnel. The money was derived from a percentage of postseason gate receipts.

        Still, failing to reach the postseason had its price. Arizona, Cleveland, Houston and Texas, the four playoff qualifiers eliminated in the first round, received full shares varying between $24,990 and $28,100 per man.

        TOUGH TUFFY: When last seen in the United States, Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes was considered a misfit, a singles-hitting corner outfielder who lacked the power to play regularly. As a result, Rhodes appeared in only 226 games from 1990-95 with the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.

        “They always wanted me to be a speedy leadoff hitter,” he said.

        Rhodes has changed his image, as well as continents.

        The 1986 Western Hills High School graduate led the Japan Pacific League in home runs (40), RBI (101) and runs scored (94) this season while batting a robust .301 for the Kintetsu Buffaloes. Rhodes began progressing last year, when he hit .257 with 22 homers and 70 RBI with Kintetsu.

        In America, Rhodes' best single-season power output was 30 homers in Triple-A in 1993. He also blasted three homers for the Cubs on Opening Day, 1994. Both seemed like aberrations, given the 13 homers he recorded in 590 major-league at-bats.

        Rhodes attributed his improvement to diligent weightlifting. He said he has bulked up to 205 pounds, 35 more than his listed weight when he broke into the majors with Houston.

        Rhodes, 31, has resisted chances to return to the U.S.

        “I'm American. Of course I would love to play baseball in America. But I'm very content in Japan,” said Rhodes, who spends offseasons in Houston. “The money's great. It takes care of me and my family. I've had (American) offers the last two years, but the money I make (in Japan) and the guarantee of playing every day outweigh that. I don't want to be a fourth outfielder anymore.”

        This security, said Rhodes, is worth enduring the aggravating style of Japanese ball.

        “It's like a chess match,” Rhodes said. “They try to outsmart each other and make the game tougher than it is. Four-hour games are fast games. They'll switch pitchers for three different batters. It's amazing.”

        CLASS IN SESSION: Reds announcer and former major league pitcher Chris Welsh will host two pitching workshops, scheduled for Dec. 19 and Jan. 16 at 1 p.m. in the Regal Hotel in downtown Cincinnati.

        Welsh's four-hour program is geared toward high school, college and amateur coaches and the parents of aspiring pitchers. Each attendee will receive a course study guide and may bring a pitcher, free of charge, to participate in the workshop.

        The course will feature extensive use of videos and computer analysis. Excerpts from interviews with top pitchers such as Greg Maddux, Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine also will be included.

        The fee is $50. For more information, contact Jim MacFarland at (513) 752-3193 or write to 3544 Turnberry, Amelia, Ohio, 45102.

        PERRY PRESENT: Hall of Fame right-hander Gaylord Perry will be the featured speaker at LaSalle High School's annual sports stag, scheduled for Jan. 26.


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- Sexton hopes versatility will earn Reds spot