Publish date:


Rick Nielsen, the sports editor of The Jamestown (N.Dak.) Sun,
lost a lot of sleep last summer, pushing his deadline back on
numerous nights until Angels games ended on the West Coast.
Nielsen stayed late at the office so he could type up a little
feature called "Darin's Day," which included Darin Erstad's
box-score line from that night's game. There were no other
Angels players listed because, frankly, the 16,000 citizens of
Jamestown don't much care about anybody other than Erstad, the
town's favorite son. "Since I got to the big leagues, there's
been a whole lot of Direct-TV sold in Jamestown," the shy,
22-year-old Erstad is somewhat embarrassed to say. "People like
to keep up with the local boy."

North Dakotans are excited about Erstad because he is one of the
few pro athletes to hail from the Peace Garden State, along with
defensive end Phil Hansen of the Buffalo Bills and a former
major leaguer you may have heard of, Roger Maris.

Erstad was a three-sport star at Jamestown High, but none of the
three sports was baseball. He played football and hockey and ran
track because the weather was so forbidding that the school
didn't have a baseball team. Instead, Erstad played American
Legion ball in the summers before he left for the University of
Nebraska, where he became a star outfielder and the punter on
the Cornhuskers' 1994 national championship football team. He
impressed baseball scouts enough that he was the first overall
pick in the June '95 amateur draft.

After he was called up from Triple A Vancouver last June, as a
replacement for injured centerfielder Jim Edmonds, Erstad hit
.284 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 57 games, then returned to
Vancouver, where he hit .305 for the season. But with Angels
starting outfielders Edmonds, Tim Salmon and Garret Anderson in
good health this year, Erstad appeared destined for a utility

However, in a testament to Erstad's potential, the Angels traded
first baseman J.T. Snow, who had averaged 21 homers and 85 RBIs
and won a Gold Glove the previous two seasons, to open up a spot
in the lineup for Erstad, who had played the position in just
three games as a pro. Erstad has been tutored at first base this
spring by coach Larry Bowa, a former Gold Glove shortstop, and
by Angels DH Eddie Murray, who has played more games at first
(2,413) than anybody else in major league history.

It's all part of the accelerated learning curve for Erstad.
"Darin grew up in a place where you can't play much baseball, so
he's still grasping the game," says new Anaheim manager Terry
Collins. "Considering what he's already done, we think he can be
very special."

Back in Jamestown, Erstad is already so special that he is
gaining rapidly on the town's current marquee attraction: the
world's largest buffalo, a 60-ton faux bison that lurks off
I-94. "Darin is so popular around here," says Nielsen, "that if
he has another good season, I wouldn't be surprised if they put
up a statue of him right beside that buffalo."




1B Darin Erstad
First baseman with enough speed and patience to bat leadoff

CF Jim Edmonds
Hit .304 in 1996 but only .189 against lefthanders

LF Garret Anderson
126 of 173 hits last season were singles

RF Tim Salmon
30 homers in '96 but none against pitching-poor Tigers

DH Eddie Murray
Still capable, at 41, of 20-homer, 75-RBI season

3B Dave Hollins
K'd 102 times in 422 at bats with Twins last year

C Jim Leyritz
Despite iffy defense, finally getting a chance to be a starter

2B Randy Velarde
Batted .333 with runners in scoring position in '96

SS Gary DiSarcina
Average plummeted 51 points from .307 in '95

Ace Chuck Finley
Nine wins shy of Nolan Ryan's club record (138)

Closer Troy Percival
Huge success--36 saves--in first full year in this role


With Tim Salmon, 28, in rightfield; Jim Edmonds, 26, in
centerfield; and Garret Anderson, 24, in leftfield, the Angels
have the youngest starting outfield in baseball. Last season the
only other major league club with a regular outfield with all
players under the age of 30 (minimum: 100 starts per player) was
the Cubs, who started Luis Gonzalez (28, now playing for the
Astros), Brian McRae (28) and Sammy Sosa (27).