Vina Emerges As Star
MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Second baseman Fernando Vina’s season might be remembered for the forearm shiver Albert Belle gave his face on May 31.
That would be unfortunate, because Vina is having a breakthrough season. Already among the quickest double-play turners in baseball, he’s added some surprising punch to the Milwaukee lineup.
Vina entered the season as a utility infielder with a .252 career average in parts of three seasons with three different teams.
Six weeks into this season, Vina wrested the Brewers’ full-time second base job from Pat Listach, who moved to center field.
With six weeks left, Vina is batting .284 and already has career-highs in runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers and RBIs.
Tonight, the Brewers face the Cleveland Indians for the first time since Belle hit Vina, triggering a brawl and suspensions.
``Everywhere I go, they show that clip,″ Vina said. ``I hope they remember my season for more that than.″
Vina’s provided more than enough fodder.
``He’s really turned into a great pickup for us,″ said Brewers general manager Sal Bando, who sent reliever Doug Henry to the New York Mets for Vina and minor league catcher Javier Gonzalez before the 1995 season.
Vina started to emerge last year, when he solidified his slick-fielding reputation. He spent the offseason preparing to become an everyday player.
Along with Greg Vaughn, who was traded from the Brewers to the San Diego Padres on July 31, Vina went to an old friend, Paul Carmazzi, for some hitting help.
Carmazzi, the baseball coach at Sacramento (Calif.) City College, coached both Vina and Vaughn in the 1980s.
Vaughn was in mental and mechanical ruin after his worst season in the majors, and Vina wanted to add some pop and points at the plate.
Carmazzi took one look at their stances and saw the problem.
``We started over from scratch. The biggest thing is we went back to balance,″ said Carmazzi, who persuaded Vaughn to ditch his pigeon-toed approach and got Vina to widen his stance, lowering his center of gravity to add power.
``What I did was had them hit balls off a tee,″ Carmazzi said. ``You can’t change mechanics through live hitting. What I did with the tee is get them to repeat the mechanical change.″
Over and over and over. Hundreds of swings, six days a week, taking Sundays off.
When they weren’t working out at the college, Vina drove the short distance to Vaughn’s home in Sacramento, and together they worked out in Vaughn’s indoor batting cage.
``We did it until it became habit, really just reflex,″ Vina said. ``I knew it was going to pay off because we worked so hard at it.″
It paid off so well for Vaughn that he had 31 homers and 95 RBIs by the end of July. A free agent after this season, Vaughn’s asking price rose to $6 million, so he was prime bait for a contender.
The Padres got him for three young prospects.
Vina’s not nearly the slugger Vaughn is. But with an erect upper body and broader stance, he did add some long-ball prowess. Gone was his pronounced crouch, leaning stance and propensity to pull every pitch.
``With a lower center of gravity, I can put more into the ball without an uppercut,″ Vina said. ``We worked on getting my lower half into hitting the ball, and that also means I can spray the ball better.″
Manager Phil Garner said Vina’s been a terrific surprise offensively.
``It’s too bad that Chuck Knoblauch and Roberto Alomar are in the same league,″ Garner said, ``or he’d be an All-Star.″