Bret Hemphill

Area baseball beat: There truly are two sides to this batting story

Published: Sunday, May. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6C

Bret Hemphill will never be compared with Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray or Cool Papa Bell.

But Hemphill, the Sierra College pitching coach, did something on June 30, 1999, that those switch-hitting Hall of Fame legends didn't do.

Then 27, Hemphill had been called up by the Anaheim Angels from the Triple-A Edmonton Trappers and didn't expect to see much action. After all, he was a rookie and the third catcher on the roster.

He wasn't in the starting lineup that day, but the Texas Rangers built a huge lead in a game they eventually won 18-4, and Angels manager Terry Collins signaled for Hemphill to strap on the gear.

Hemphill didn't realize his major-league "claim to fame" was just ahead. He had a hit batting left-handed and a hit batting right-handed in his first two major-league at-bats.

After replacing starting catcher Matt Walbeck (Sacramento High School), Hemphill singled hitting left-handed off right-hander Danny Patterson in the seventh inning. One inning later, batting right-handed, he singled off left-hander Mike Venafro.

Hemphill played only 12 games in the majors, all in 1999. Considering he had surgery for torn shoulder cartilage in 1997, it's a miracle he even made it to the big leagues. After those first two hits, however, he went 1 for 19.

"I'm lucky to have played as long as I did and make the major leagues," Hemphill, 41, said. "I treasure those times and all the relationships I made that I continue today."

Hemphill grew up in a baseball family. His father, Jim, played minor-league ball for the Kansas City A's in 1961-62.

Hemphill was drafted three times. In 1990, the Houston Astros picked him in the 29th round out of Cupertino High School, but he opted to play for Cal State Fullerton and Hall of Fame coach Augie Garrido. After his junior year, he was drafted in 1993 by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 53rd round. But he returned to the Titans for his senior season and was drafted in the 14th round by the Angels.

At Fullerton, Hemphill competed in the College World Series in 1992 and 1994 and was voted the team's best defensive player, honorable mention All-Big West Conference and all-tournament in the Midwest I Regional in 1994.

Hemphill played 7 1/2 seasons in the minor leagues for the Angels organization. He was a Texas League All-Star with the Double-A Midland Angels in 1997 and a Northwest League All-Star in his first minor-league season with the Boise Hawks in 1994.

Hemphill has coached at Sierra for the past five years, the last two as pitching coach. He and his partners – Alex Creel (Oakmont High, Sacramento City College) and Mikela Olsen (Sacramento State) – operate Golden Spikes Baseball in Roseville, a company that works with young athletes to improve their skills.

Tearing up the Texas League

More than 25 years ago, LaVel Freeman (Kennedy, Sacramento City) had incredible back-to-back seasons with the El Paso Diablos, a rarity these days because of the rush to move players through each level of the minors.

In 1987, as a 23-year-old with the Diablos, Freeman had 14 home runs, 42 doubles and one of the highest batting averages (.395) in Texas League history. In the past 50 years, he is the only player to have more than 200 hits (208) in a Texas League season. The previous season, Freeman batted .322 with 14 home runs and 31 doubles.

He signed with the Brewers after being selected in the first round of the January phase of the 1983 draft. He played eight minor-league seasons (1983-90) and was a career .305 hitter. In 2006, he was inducted into the Texas League Hall of Fame.

He played just two games in the majors with the Brewers in 1989, going 0 for 3.

Et cetera

• The Giants promoted right-hander Justin Fitzgerald (UC Davis) to Triple-A Fresno. In six starts at Double-A Richmond, Fitzgerald, 27, was 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA.

• The Colorado Rockies acquired right-hander Drew Carpenter (Vacaville, Sacramento City) from the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named and assigned him to Triple-A Colorado Springs.

Mark McDermott is a freelance writer specializing in Sacramento-area baseball. Contact him

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