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When Mike Bordick left as a free agent in December, the A's
didn't moan about having to replace the shortstop who had led
the American League in assists in 1996 and who had played more
games at the position than anybody else in Oakland history
except Bert Campaneris. They gladly turned short over to a
23-year-old who until eight years ago didn't own a glove, and
who once fractured his skull trying to field a grounder. Oakland
put the job into the soft hands of Tony Batista.

"Tony has this confidence that's unmistakable," A's manager Art
Howe says. "I wouldn't call it cockiness. He just has this quiet
way about him and this look in his eyes. You would think he's
been around a long time the way he handles himself. I'd be
surprised if he doesn't play at least 10 years in the big
leagues." Adds Oakland assistant general manager Billy Beane,
"He already looks like he's a 10-year veteran."

In 1991 the A's signed 17-year-old Tony just two years after his
brother Vicente, then a minor leaguer in the Oakland system,
gave him his first glove. Before that, Tony, a native of the
Dominican Republic, had fielded grounders with borrowed gloves,
cardboard fashioned into a glove, or his bare hands. "I played
shortstop all the time," says Batista, who grew up in the
hometown of former major league shortstop Felix Fermin. "I
didn't see Dominicans playing in the NBA. I saw Dominicans
playing baseball. I saw them playing shortstop."

Batista reached Triple A Tacoma when he was 19, but in his
fourth game with the Tigers he collided with the Tacoma third
baseman while pursuing a grounder in the hole and fractured his
skull. "I didn't want to have surgery," he says. "I was afraid.
At that moment I thought I'd never play again."

Batista did undergo surgery, and the next season he resumed his
fast track to the big leagues as a strong-armed shortstop with
good range and surprising pop at the plate. By the second half
of last year he was Oakland's every-day second baseman. In 74
games he hit .298 with six home runs and 25 RBIs.

This winter the A's caused a small run on their ticket windows
by reacquiring Jose Canseco and reuniting him with fellow Bash
Brother Mark McGwire. Also, righthander Steve Karsay, sound
after three years of battling elbow injuries, could turn into a
drawing card on an otherwise unimpressive pitching staff. But
one of the more intriguing aspects of Oakland's season could be
the play of the youngest double play combination in the American

In spring training the A's released oft-injured second baseman
Brent Gates to open that job for Scott Spiezio, 24, a converted
third baseman. "He forced us to make room," Howe says of
Spiezio. "He's such a hard-nosed player that if there's a ball
hit between third and short when he's playing second, he just
might dive for it."

Heads up: Batista and Spiezio have started just three big league
games between them at their respective positions. "I don't worry
about that," Howe says, "because both of them have the talent to
play in the middle. They're fast learners."




SS Tony Batista
Solid bat but average speed at leadoff spot

3B Scott Brosius
.365 with runners in scoring position led league in 1996

DH Jose Canseco
Better glove than Giambi, will play some outfield

1B Mark McGwire
Only Ruth had better career homer rate (one per 12.4 ABs)

RF Geronimo Berroa
Defensive liability, but he hit 36 home runs last year

LF Jason Giambi
20 homers through July 26, none thereafter

2B Scott Spiezio
Son of former big leaguer, Ed, may bat second

CF Ernie Young
Third-worst average (.242) among qualifiers for league title

C George Williams
Switch hitter was a 24th-round draft pick

Ace Steve Karsay
In minors averaged a strikeout per inning

Closer Billy Taylor
Last season he had 17 of his 18 career saves


Last year Mark McGwire led the majors with 52 home runs,
becoming the 30th player to lead the big leagues in dingers in
two or more seasons. Nine years ago he blasted 49, tying Andre
Dawson for the major league lead. Only four other players have
led the majors in homers at least nine years after doing it the
first time: Babe Ruth (1918 and '31), Hank Greenberg (1935 and
'46), Willie Mays (1955 and '65) and Mike Schmidt (1974 and '83).