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Beaver outfielder trades hockey stick for big bat

Jason Bay has come a long way from Trail on his way to the pros

Even in Trail, a British Columbia border town within eyesight of the United States, hockey rules the land. But somebody forgot to send Jason Bay the memo.

Bay's father grew up watching Hank Aaron more than Bobby Orr, took his kid to Seattle Mariners games and put him

in T-ball and Little League. Bay became hooked.

'Tried hockey, but it never stuck,' says the Portland Beaver right-fielder, who is the Pacific Coast League's hottest hitter.

Not that Bay hated hockey players. In fact, he heard stories about Ray Ferraro, knew of Adam Deadmarsh and became friends with Todd Robinson Ñ all star players for the Portland Winter Hawks.

He watched as Robinson and Portland won the Memorial Cup in Spokane in 1998. His sister's good friends included Barrett Jackson and Steve McCarthy, who also played in the Western Hockey League.

Bay just set his own course, which saw him play in the Little League World Series before fading into baseball obscurity at North Idaho Community College and Gonzaga.

Today, the 24-year-old Bay remains happy with his career choice. And baseball people certainly know who he is. He and the Beavers return to PGE Park for a homestand, starting tonight, against Fresno and Oklahoma City.

Asked how his first month in Triple-A went, Bay responded flatly, 'Pretty well.' Pretty well to the tune of .376 through 27 games with a PCL-leading nine home runs and 31 RBIs. After he hit .550 from April 21-27, the PCL named him player of the week.

Tye Waller, minor league coordinator for the parent San Diego Padres, says don't buy into Bay's hot start. It doesn't mean he'll be the second coming of Larry Walker, a big league All-Star and hit-for-average run producer who hails from the same province.

'He's smokin' hot right now,' Waller says of Bay. 'He's doing everything well. I hope it continues. We'll see over time. But the way he's playing right now, everybody who watches the guy is impressed.'

Outstanding hit wows

The Padres acquired Bay last summer from the New York Mets, who had obtained him in March from the Montreal Expos, who drafted him out of Gonzaga in the 22nd round in 2000. With three organizations last year, bridging Class A and AA, Bay hit .283 with 17 HRs and 85 RBIs.

The Padres placed him on the 40-man roster last November. Baseball America magazine named him the Padres' 12th-best prospect entering spring training. He may have risen. He's a hitting machine who does all the little things well. Waller says he could play any outfield position.

'This guy's been steady Eddie from Day One,' Waller says, 'an all-out hard worker who has tools. After we added him to the (40-man) roster, he took his game to another level.'

Bay says adjusting to Triple-A has been smooth because he knows the pitchers will throw with more control, even when they try to test him with breaking balls. He's a patient hitter who waits for his pitch.

One at-bat wowed Manager Rick Sweet, another ex-Gonzaga player, and the other Beaver players. It came against Las Vegas during the last homestand. The 6-2, 200-pound, right-handed Bay took a 1-0 pitch, a high outside fastball, and crushed it to the opposite field, nearly hitting the Multnomah Athletic Club. 'Awesome,' Sweet says.

When hitting balls hard to right field, 'that's when I know I'm going at my best,' says Bay, who had two homers Monday at Omaha.

Then again, Bay has been hitting the ball hard for years. He played for Trail in the 1990 Little League series. The Canadian team beat Mexico, then got thumped by Taiwan 20-1. He doesn't share any of his stories of glory, however, because the Beavers already had heard too many of them from Little League World Series hero Sean Burroughs, a Padre third baseman and former Beaver.

Coaching starts in pros

Bay still calls Trail home. The town of about 9,000 is a short drive from Spokane. It's supported by a lead and zinc smelter where his dad works. Scouts don't generally flock to Trail Ñ unless they're looking for hockey players.

Bay had to go to nearby North Idaho Ñ 'the only place to offer me a scholarship' ÑÊbefore continuing his baseball career at Gonzaga. He hit exceptionally well at each stop and led the West Coast Conference in hitting in 2000.

Bay says professional coaching has helped him improve. He got by on athleticism in high school and junior college and hit so well at Gonzaga that 'they never said anything to me,' he says. 'I got to pro ball and had to make adjustments, and it's the first time it sat with me.'

Bay's sister plays softball at Oklahoma State and may play for Canada in the 2004 Olympics. Bay would like to join her, but the Canadian baseball team uses players who aren't on 40-man rosters and must face the United States and Cuba in regional qualifying play.

Oh, well. Might as well focus on a long pro career.

'Obviously,' he says, 'I'd like to get to the big leagues.'

Contact Jason Vondersmith at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .