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Triple-A player is 12 points shy of batting .400, and has just nine games left to reach it.
Published August 28, 2005
NEW ORLEANS - The temperature was pushing 100 and Rick Short hadn't had a day off in almost a month.
"At times, life in the minors is not fun," the New Orleans Zephyrs' 32-year-old infielder said. "But sometimes it's just great. And this has been a great year."
Short, a minor-leaguer for 12 years, made his major-league debut this season with two at-bats for the Nationals. He is trying to become the first .400 hitter in a full-season professional league since Aaron Pointer batted .402 for the 1961 Class A Salisbury Braves.
"I'm trying not to let it get to me, but it's historic, it's a mark anyone would be glad to have," Short said. "I don't want to feel pressured by it. It doesn't keep me up at night, but it's the first thing I think of in the morning."
No major-leaguer has finished with an average of .400 or higher since Ted Williams batted .406 for Boston in 1941.
Short's average, which rose to .402 on Aug. 19, was at .388 after Friday's game against Iowa. The Zephyrs, in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, have nine games remaining.
"You can't help thinking about what you have to do," he said. "Going 2-for-5 isn't going to make it. I have to go 3-for-5 every game to get it and that's not easy."
On Saturday a doubleheader against Iowa was canceled, as was the Zephyrs' final home game today because of the potential hurricane threat, the team's Web site reported. The final nine games will be on the road.
"It can be rough, long days, long games," Short said. "In the minors you don't have charter flights. You get a 4 a.m. wakeup call and have a 6 a.m. flight and a game that night."
Short knows what he's talking about. He's played in Class A and Double A, lived in Rochester, N.Y., and Salt Lake City. He played in Japan and Mexico, marrying his college sweetheart and having a son and daughter along the way.
"I'd be lying if I said I never thought about giving it up," Short said. "But then you come out to the park and think about your friends in offices someplace and you don't want to give it up."
Short acknowledges that sometimes he can see the ball like a big fat target as it heads toward him. Zephyrs manager Tim Foli said Short is just a pro hitter.
"I was in the majors for 27 years as a player and coach, and I've only seen maybe five or six of what I call professional hitters," Foli said. "He may not always get a hit, but he can slow things down and make the game come to him. When it's on the line, he's at his best."
Although the Zephyrs are in last place in the PCL's America Southern Division, Short has had a great season personally.
He is on track to break the league batting average record of .379 set by Chris Smith with Phoenix in 1983, made the All-Star team and had hitting streaks of 20 and 21 games, both club records. He was brought up to the Nationals on June 9, making it to the major leagues for the first time after getting 1,235 career hits in the minors, and made his big-league debut the next day against Seattle at RFK Stadium.
He pinch hit in the fifth inning and singled to left to drive in a run.
He was designated for assignment the next day, then brought back up June 30. In his only other plate appearances he grounded out to third, then walked the next day during the ninth inning of a 5-4, 12-inning win. Washington sent him back to the minors July 5.
"We finally got him to the big leagues this year for two at-bats," said Nationals general manager Jim Bowden. "He's getting ready for another cup of coffee - on the first (of September), he'll be back up here."
Short's high point was Aug. 19 when he hit two home runs and boosted his average to .402. Since then, he's playing with a sore left shoulder and left ankle and hit .158.
"That's what makes what Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams did so amazing," Short said. "You can come out and hit the ball really well four times and still go 0-for-4. So many things have to be just right for it to happen."