Thursday, April 18, 2002

Opportunity knocks for Kearns

        Austin Kearns has been told he is temporary. He has been promoted to be demoted, called up by the Cincinnati Reds as a sneak preview of coming attractions.

        His first taste of the major leagues figures to be fleeting. The over/under is that it's over in under a week. Kearns is here to have his picture taken, not his portrait painted; to fortify left field until Sean Casey reclaims first base from Adam Dunn.

        That, at least, is the plan.

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Austin Kearns points a bat while talking with Gookie Dawkins and Ruben Mateo.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        “I don't know that he can really change my mind,” manager Bob Boone said Wednesday afternoon. “But circumstances can.”

        Before Kearns made his big-league debut in Wednesday's 7-2 loss to the Houston Astros (he was 1-for-3 including an RBI single, a hit batsman and a strikeout), he was advised his visit would probably be brief. As soon as Casey's head clears from Saturday's beaning, Kearns could be back in Chattanooga.

        “I've heard that,” Kearns said. “But anything can happen. I'm here and can hopefully stay here if I do well enough.”

        In every injury, there is opportunity. If Kearns is hitting, and others are hurting, there's always the chance his cup of instant coffee could become a double no-fat mocha latte. Talent does not always conform to a timetable.

        “I think anybody who gets to the big leagues has a chance to make a statement,” Kearns said. “I'm just going to go out and play and, whatever happens, go with it from there.”

11 photos of Kearns in his big-league debut
        As the ranking prospect in the Reds' system, Kearns' development demands steady work. He needs to sharpen his skills through daily repetition rather than risk gathering barnacles on Boone's bench.

        That said, the delicate condition of Ken Griffey Jr.'s right knee, the intermittent pain between Casey's ears and the rocky medical history of Ruben Mateo could prolong Kearns' cameo or afford him additional opportunities. Whenever the Reds need to replace lost power, Kearns is likely to be their emergency generator. Nurturing is nice, but it rarely trumps need.

        “All we're trying to do is win ballgames,” said Jim Bowden, the Reds' general manager. “And he's been on an absolute tear.”

Even Reds weren't ready

        Kearns was promoted Tuesday night, shortly after swatting his fifth home run in four games. He arrived at the Reds clubhouse Wednesday to find his name in the sixth spot on the lineup board. Because of the short notice, the entry was scrawled on a piece of adhesive tape rather than imprinted on a custom nameplate. (Clubhouse manager Rick Stowe, ever vigilant, already has placed the order.)

        Odds are, the Reds are going to need a Kearns nameplate for years to come. If his major-league career is not to be continuous, it still figures to be conspicuous.

        “I know what he is,” Bob Boone said. “It's a matter of him being ready for the big leagues. I want him to have some fun. That's my message. This is part of your education process. This is not part of your last chance to do it.”

        The Reds want to give Austin Kearns a glimpse of the big leagues. He has in mind a longer look.

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