Thursday, June 9, 2011
Dee Gordon flies into the majors
By Jerry Crasnick
PHILADELPHIA -- By the time you finish this sentence, Devaris “Dee’’ Gordon will have taken off from first base at the crack of the bat, made a tight turn at second, slid safely into third and be up dusting off his pants just as the shortstop squeezes the relay throw from left field.
There’s fast, and then there’s Michael Bourn-Peter Bourjos-caliber fast. And now there’s Gordon, a budding member of the “If you blinked, you missed it’’ school of baserunning. At age 23, he’s giving new meaning to the phrase, “learning on the fly.’’
The Dodgers, who haven’t exactly radiated positive energy this season, added a dose of dynamism when they summoned Gordon and his .315 batting average from Triple-A Albuquerque earlier this week. As Rafael Furcal recuperates from a strained left oblique and the selfless Jamey Carroll returns to his tried-and-true role as a utility man, Gordon is about to get an opportunity to showcase his wares at shortstop.
He made a big impression in his first start, going 3-for-5 against Roy Oswalt and the Phillies bullpen in a 6-2 Los Angeles victory Tuesday night. Gordon’s father, former big league pitcher Tom “Flash’’ Gordon, was in the Citizens Bank Park stands along with Dee’s uncle, aunt and grandmother, all of whom made the trip up from Orlando, Fla.
“He’s a proud dad,’’ Dee said Wednesday. “Your dad would be proud, too. Just to see him in the stands at a major league ballpark watching me play … it’s a blessing.’’
The second installment in Gordon’s adventure wasn’t quite as heartwarming. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly inserted Gordon, a left-handed hitter, back in the leadoff spot against Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels, a lefty with bona fide Cy Young Award aspirations. Gordon flied out twice, struck out and then took a seat in favor of pinch-hitter James Loney late in a 2-0 Phillies victory.
Flash Gordon wasn’t around for the sequel; he left Wednesday and hopped a flight to Georgia, where he’s coaching Dee’s younger brother in a baseball tournament.
If the Dodgers were looking for some positive energy, Gordon certainly brings that to the party. He has a natural bounce in his step and an effervescent smile, and he routinely answers questions with “Yes sir’’ or “No sir’’ at the beginning or end of each sentence. Dodgers special assistant Jose Vizcaino calls Gordon a terrific listener with a diligent work ethic.
Just like Dodgers teammate Matt Kemp, a close friend of Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin, Gordon has a basketball pedigree. He played AAU hoops against future NBAers Kevin Durant and Mike Conley as a kid in Florida, and wasn’t shy about driving the lane despite his slight frame. When asked to describe his game, Gordon said, “I scored a lot of points. I was like a Russell Westbrook-type.’’
Gordon spent a healthy chunk of his youth hanging around big league clubhouses, and became a huge Jimmy Rollins fan when Flash was pitching for the Phillies. But his love for basketball prevented him from embracing his dad’s line of work. Dee didn’t play baseball until his junior year in high school, and he wasn’t especially serious about the sport until his arrival at Southeastern University, an NAIA school in Florida.
“He was always more into being a basketball player,’’ Tom Gordon said before leaving town Tuesday. “That was where his heart was. Devaris played the game of basketball very well. I thought a lot of college teams would take a chance on giving him an opportunity to play.’’
So now that Dee Gordon has officially gravitated to baseball, what type of player is he going to be in the long run?
“He reminds me of Jose Offerman when first came up with the Dodgers,’’ Vizcaino said. “Offerman wasn’t as skinny as Dee, but he was fast just like Dee.’’
Although Dodgers fans might cringe at that comparison, it’s worth noting that Offerman amassed 1,551 hits in his career, made two All-Star teams and once stole 45 bases for the Kansas City Royals. He also finished second to Todd Zeile among major leaguers with 197 errors in the 1990s, so his employers learned to take the good with the bad.
At a scant 5-10, 150 pounds, Dee Gordon is going to have to fight the perception that big league pitchers can overpower him with hard stuff. But he’s doing his best to fill out, whether that means lifting weights or eating five or six meals a day by his count. At least his new per diem can accommodate the expenditure.
“He’s pretty frail right now,’’ Mattingly said. “But the kid has a good swing. He’s not just out there trying to slap the ball. Maybe this isn’t a fair comparison, but I remember seeing Omar Vizquel in Seattle when he first started and thinking, ‘They can just knock [the bat] out of his hands.’ But he got his hits. That’s all Dee has to do -- get his hits and get on base.’’
Easier said than done. But if Gordon manages to put the ball in play consistently on the ground, it’ll be fun to watch him try. His father's mind flashes back several years to spring training, when a teenaged Dee was hanging out with him at Phillies camp and was enlisted to run a 60-yard dash one day.
“When I first saw him run, I wasn't sure what I was looking at,’’ Tom Gordon said. “But then he ran against another kid, one of the fastest kids in the organization. I thought, ‘Wow, this kid has some speed.’’’
Having bowled over his dad, Dee Gordon will now turn his attention to impressing the rest of the National League. Like every other hot prospect-turned-major leaguer, he must learn how to walk before he can run.
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Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via email.
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