Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wherever he’s needed, Dans Kaczrowski shines in field

YAKIMA, Wash. — Before Dan Kaczrowski embarked on his first professional baseball journey, his college coach made a suggestion.

“He told me it might be a good idea to bring an outfielder’s glove,” Kaczrowski said. “Even though I’d played the infield my entire college career, he said, ‘You never know.’”

It turned out that Jason Verdugo, head coach of the Hamline University Pipers of St. Paul, Minn., was on the right track. He might also have recommended a first baseman’s mitt.

“I didn’t bring one of those, either,” Kaczrowski, a Bears utilityman, said during a recent interview.

Yakima's Dan Kaczrowski warms up to bat as his team plays the Tri-City Dust Devils on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009. (Sara Gettys/Yakima Herald-Republic)
And who knows? By the time the Northwest League season ends on Sept. 6, Kaczrowski might need to borrow someone’s catcher’s gear. Or maybe he’ll be summoned to the pitcher’s mound.

Kaczrowski has, after all, played all seven positions other than pitcher or catcher this summer, impressing Yakima manager Bob Didier and others among the Arizona Diamondbacks system.

“He’s also been a DH,” Didier said. “So I guess you’d have to count that, too.”

Have glove, will travel.

That the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Kaczrowski has played so many different positions is one thing. That he’s played each of them well — appearing as well-rehearsed in left field as he has at shortstop or second base — is quite another.

“He’s a baseball player,” Didier said. “I guess that’s the best way to describe him.”

Especially if you trace Kaczrowski’s baseball roots.

The Yakima Bears's Dan Kaczrowski runs for second base as his team plays the Tri-City Dust Devils on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009. (Sara Gettys/Yakima Herald-Republic)
“I played everywhere except first and the outfield,” he said of his days at St. Anthony Village High School, located between Minneapolis and St. Paul. “I caught through JVs, and then I was our closer in high school.”

At Hamline (pronounced HAM-lynn), the player known as Kaz to friends and teammates played second base his first two years, then moved to shortstop as a junior and senior.

Early this season Didier, who has a knack for tapping previously unrealized potential, gave Kaczrowski a start in left field. In one of his first games there Kaz made two head-first, diving catches.

“The thing about diving for a ball,” he said, “is you have to know when to do it and when not to. If there are runners on base and you’re in a close game, you don’t want to let the ball to get by you so one or maybe all of them can score. With two out and no one on base — that’s when maybe you dive for one.”

Subsequent moves to center and right revealed similar success. He seems a natural at tracking fly balls, has the speed to reach drives to the gaps and the hands to hang on once he gets there.

Third base, meanwhile, is not called the hot corner for nothing.

“The ball gets on you quick,” Kaczrowski said. “It’s pretty much just reacting.”

His favorite position? “Probably second,” he said.

“The thing with me is, though, that I don’t really care as long as I’m in the lineup. As long as I’m playing — somewhere, anywhere.”

Said Didier, “The good thing about him is has enough arm to play short or third or in the outfield. You can pinch-run him (he began Wednesday night’s game with 10 stolen bases in 12 tries). He has some work to do on his hitting — still tries to pull the ball a little too much (though he had hiked his batting average to .273 prior to Wednesday’s game).

“He’s probably been overlooked some because of his size. But with his versatility, which makes him more valuable to any organization, he has a very bright future.”

And now, a wider selection of gloves.

From sports

Dan played for the Dans in 2008, hitting .389 and winning Player of the League honors.

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