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Beavers put another ex-catcher at the helm

Craig Colbert expects to field experienced squad this season

PEORIA, Ariz. Ñ The thermometer is pushing 100 at the Peoria Sports Complex, and most of the coaches and players have gone to lunch, but Craig Colbert is working with San Diego catchers Tom Wilson, Ramon Hernandez and Miguel Ojeda on the throw to second base.

Fifteen, 20 minutes pass, and it's time to change and work on the throw to third.

'Anybody want more throws to second?' Colbert asks.

'Ain't that enough?' somebody cracks.

'Some guys like to work a lot on the throw to second,' Colbert says, deadpan for a moment. There are smiles all around.

Colbert seems like the type who likes to work Ñ and especially with catchers. He played 13 years of pro ball at the position, including 72 games with the San Francisco Giants in 1992 and '93. The new manager of the Portland Beavers has spent much of spring training working with big-league catchers along with Padre Manager Bruce Bochy Ñ another former backstop.

'He is a former catcher, so I'm biased, but I think he's a great manager,' Bochy says of Colbert. 'He knows what it's like to play in Triple-A, knocking on the door to the major leagues. He is going to relate well to the players. The fans in Portland will really like him. Dewey will do a great job.'

On a fast track

The birth certificate says 'Craig,' but everyone calls him Dewey. The reason will remain secret, other than it stems from his days as a student at Oral Roberts University.

'It is a nickname from college; I won't reveal anything more than that for now,' Colbert says with a slight grin. 'It has been with me going on 20 years now. I hear people say 'Craig,' I don't even answer them.'

Dewey Colbert seems on a fast track to some sort of major league position with the Padres. After retiring as a player in 1998, he coached a year with Triple-A Las Vegas, then began his managing career with Single-A Fort Wayne (Ind.) in the Padre system. He led Single-A Lake Elsinore to a 91-49 record and a share of the 2001 California League championship, then managed Mobile (Ala.) in Double-A the past two years.

When the Padres decided to dismiss Rick Sweet Ñ another ex-catcher Ñ as manager of the Beavers, they thought enough of Colbert to promote him.

'I have always felt catchers make your best managers, with them having spent a lot of time evaluating pitchers and opposing hitters,' says Kevin Towers, the Medford native who is in eighth year as Padres' GM. 'Dewey reminds me a lot of Bruce (Bochy). He's a student of the game who expects a lot from his players. He will pat them on the back when they need that, but provide an iron fist when that is needed as well. He's going to be a good big-league coach some day.'

Colbert, 38, has a touch of old school in him, and it may show this season with the Beavers.

'I am big on the fundamentals,' he says. 'Managing in A and Double-A ball the last four years, that is the biggest thing I have stressed. Basically, I mean knowing where you are supposed to be at on the field at all times.

'That gets my hair up Ñ not really,' he says, stroking his shaved dome, 'more than anything, if guys are in the wrong position.

'The biggest thing is: Act and perform like a professional. That is something I will demand of the players. I am pretty strict about that kind of thing. They are going to do things the way I want them to do them.'

Notes

The Padres, making a big push for respectability in the National League West as they open play in new Petco Park this season, will have a deeper major league roster. That should translate into a more experienced Beavers roster, too. Younger prospects are likely to remain at the A and Double-A levels, with the more major league-ready players in Portland, only a step away from a call-up.

'It should be more of a veteran club,' Towers says. 'Not that we weren't trying to win in the past, but we have a legitimate chance to win at the big-league level this year. You are going to have injuries throughout the year, and we want to make sure we have experienced players who can come up and help out when that happens. It should be one of the better Portland clubs they have had.'

Rosters won't be set for another week or so, but starting pitching appears solid. Veterans with major league experience including Ben Howard, Dennis Tankersley and Mike Bynum, along with Matt Bruback and Australian Chris Oxspring, probably are ticketed for Portland.

Colbert expects power in the lineup, with such players as first baseman Tagg Bozied and outfielders Alex Fernandez, Rich Gomez, Xavier Nady and Jon Knott likely to be Beavers. And there should be some speed with second baseman Bernie Castro, who led the PCL in stolen bases last season with 49, and outfielder Freddy Guzman, who stole 90 bases in 118 games with Lake Elsinore, Mobile and Portland in 2003.

Others likely to play with the Beavers this spring include shortstop Jose Nieves, who played Triple-A in the St. Louis and Yankee organizations last season; infielders Rico Washington and Ben Risinger; and catchers Humbero Quintero and Yamid Haad.