By MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2001
Keeping his eye on the ball never has been a problem for Bakersfield Blaze first baseman Dan Grummitt. Seeing it was a whole different story.
In his first three seasons in the Rays minor-league system, Grummitt put together impressive numbers. He finished third in the organization with 19 home runs last season; was the New York-Penn League's home run champion in 1999, falling one short of the league record with 22; and held a .254 career batting average.
He did it all while seeing only a white blur hurtling at him.
Grummitt had laser surgery on his left eye in the off-season. The change has been dramatic.
Through Monday, Grummitt was batting .363 with four home runs and 13 RBI. He had 10 doubles and 23 strikeouts in 80 at-bats. Tuesday, Grummitt, who began the season with a 14-game hitting streak, was named the organization's player of the month.
"The way my left eye was, they couldn't make a contact for me and they couldn't do anything but the surgery, so I went ahead and had it," Grummitt said. "It's a little more clear. I can almost see the seams on the ball now."
Grummitt, 24, has more than just eye surgery to make him focus this season. After three seasons in the organization's lower levels, the 22nd-round draft choice in 1998 out of Shawnee State University in Ohio spent the spring working out with Double-A Orlando.
When camp broke on the last day of spring training, he was told he would be headed to Class A Bakersfield. Angry and confused, Grummitt took it out on California League pitchers.
"It was a surprise to me," Grummitt said. "I was so mad I didn't know what to do, who to talk to. But I took the hit and now I'm just busting my butt to get back up there. It's a huge motivation for me. I mean, we have a lot of great players on this team, my best friend is on this team, but I'm looking to move up as fast as anybody else."
RAYS OF THE MONTH: The Rays announced the players and pitchers of the month for their affiliates and the overall player and pitcher of the month Tuesday.
Bakersfield pitcher Ed Kofler (3-1, 1.17) was the Blaze's pitcher of the month. Charleston third baseman Juan Salas (.287, 18 RBI) and pitcher Mark Malaska (1-4, 2.79) were recognized. Orlando was represented by shortstop Jorge Cantu (.313, 13 RBI) and Joe Kennedy (4-0, 0.28) and Durham was led by catcher Toby Hall (.326, 4 HR, 19 RBI, current 12-game hitting streak) and pitcher Mickey Callaway (2-1, 2.93).
Kennedy was named pitcher of the month, joining Grummitt as the first minor-leaguers recognized this season.
HURLIN' JOE: Kennedy, with one earned run in 32 innings, was second in minor-league baseball with a 0.28 ERA through Monday. He trailed Josh Beckett (0.00, 0 ER, 292/3 IP) of the Florida State League Brevard County Manatees.
MEXICAN RAYS: Julio Franco and Santos Hernandez, whom the Rays loaned to the Mexico City Tigers of the Mexican League, are making a little noise. Franco leads the league with a .449 average through 34 games with five home runs and 25 RBI. Hernandez, who challenged briefly for the Rays' closer spot during spring training, was tied for third with nine saves.