Pro baseball: Dodgers call up Sands

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 19, 2011

By Mike London
Fans of the Albuquerque Isotopes had just started to love Jerry Sands when they had to say goodbye.
Sands, a Catawba product, was batting .400 with five homers, two doubles, a triple and 17 RBIs in 10 games with the Triple A Isotopes, a performance that convinced the Los Angeles Dodgers he was ready for the majors. He was called up by the power-starved Dodgers on Monday.
Sands had struck out only three times in 45 at-bats with the Isotopes and may well have put up staggering numbers in a high-altitude hitter’s park in a hitter’s league if he’d stayed in the Pacific Coast League all season.
The Dodgers immediately announced that Sands, 23, would bat seventh in their lineup and would play left field against the visiting Atlanta Braves. So instead of facing Houston Astros prospect Jordan Lyles on Monday, Sands stood in against Braves veteran Tim Hudson.
“Tim Hudson?” growled Catawba coach Jim Gantt when informed of Sands’ first MLB matchup. “Geez, be careful what you wish for.”
Gantt got the good news about Sands while he was mowing the grass on Monday evening. Dodgers scout Lon Joyce, who signed Sands, made the call.
“Lon said, ‘Well, you’ve got yourself a big leaguer,’ ” Gantt said.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Sands, who is as athletic as some NFL tight ends, made Newman Park look way too small in his three seasons as a Catawba Indian from 2006-08.
Sands’ career college numbers were scary — 61 homers, 205 RBIs, .381 batting average, .752 slugging percentage, 201 runs scored, 132 walks. The homers, slugging percentage and walks set Catawba records. He hit homers in many venues that were the longest in the history of that park.
Sands was a Division II All-American as a junior, producing nearly as many homers (24) as strikeouts (27).
Everyone — Gantt and Sands included — was stunned when he lasted until the 25th round of the 2008 draft, mostly because the Dodgers, Reds, Cardinals and Orioles had all worked him out prior to the draft and had been impressed. He was the 757th pick, and the Post mentioned at the time that it would like to see the 756 who went ahead of him.
Following the draft, a temporarily discouraged Sands packed his bags to play for the Wilson Tobs in a summer wood bat league and had all but decided to return to Catawba for his senior year.
Joyce flew in to see him, and the Dodgers were able to change his mind, not with dollars, but by guaranteeing they would pay for his final year of college.
Sands showed power and patience right away in the minors. Then he broke out in 2010, batting .300 and blasting 35 homers between Class A and Double A.
Sands made a favorable impression on the Dodgers in Arizona Fall League competition, worked as a substitute school teacher back home in Smithfield-Selma over the winter, then went to Spring Training with the big league Dodgers.
Sands batted .313 in the spring and showed the Dodgers he was a good enough athlete to play in a big-league outfield. L.A. manager Don Mattingly likened Sands to strapping Matt Holliday, a perennial All-Star.
The Dodgers gave Sands the outstanding rookie award for his spring showing, but they sent him to Albuquerque to open the season.
After a series against St. Louis in which they had a terrible time producing runs, the Dodgers turned to Sands for help. The Dodgers hope Sands will become the regular in left field, where they’ve been trying to get by with journeymen Marcus Thames and Tony Gwynn Jr.
To make room on the roster for Sands, the Dodgers designated outfielder Xavier Paul for assignment.
Gantt expects Sands to do fine.
“Jerry’s power was unique to him, more power than anyone I’ve seen here, Gantt said. “His power was unbelievable.”
NOTES: Sands doubled and had a sacrifice fly against Hudson his first two big-league at-bats last night in L.A. … On the broadcast, Hall of Fame announced Vin Scully referred to Catawba, unfortunately, as Catawba Community College, but at least he pronounced Salisbury correctly. … The late Benny Callahan, who pitched four games for Oakland was the last Catawba player to participate in a major league game before Sands debuted last night. … The Catawba player (1947-48) who had the best big league career was Lexington native Johnny Temple, a second baseman who batted .300 three times in the 1950s and made four All-Star teams.