Although Batter's Box favourite Reed Johnson is an outfielder, there are more than a few similarities between "Sparky" and 24-year-old infielder Dominic Rich. When asked about past ballplayers that influenced them, Johnson and Rich named two men famous for their on-field intensity. The words "throwback" and "old-school" come to mind, and it's hard for a true baseball fan not to like either of them. Reed Johnson arrived at the major leagues with little fanfare and showed he could play; don't bet against Dominic Rich doing the same.
Batter's Box (BB): You had a fantastic season in Dunedin in 2002, then struggled a bit last year. Can you tell us what was going on?
Dominic Rich (DR): I started off with a good first week, then I pulled my groin, which set me back for about two weeks. When I came back, I did struggle for a while, then when I started playing well again, I separated my shoulder. It was kind of a rocky season for me, up and down because of those injuries.
BB: Too bad that your 12-game hitting streak came to an end last night, but you still had a good game, especially with the glove.
DR: I'm seeing the ball well, and hit one hard last night, but it got caught. I just want to stay consistent, with my approach at the plate as well as on defence.
BB: Tell us about that leap you made last night to spear a line drive.
DR: That was just natural instinct, to know when to go up for a ball like that. I feel like my range is as good as anybody's; I just hope that I get a chance to show them I have the same range on Astroturf in SkyDome.
BB: Have you compared notes with the O-Dog [Orlando Hudson] on playing your position?
DR: Yeah, he's a great one. I made sure I watched how he goes about doing his work, and he's fun to watch.
BB: You also tried to bunt your way on, but the pitcher made a good play. Is that part of your game?
DR: Yeah, my speed is another part of my game, and the third baseman was playing back deep enough, so if I'd got it past the pitcher, that was a base hit.
BB: Do you think you've mastered Double-A?
DR: I feel I'm ready to take the next step. My confidence is there, and as long as I stay healthy, I feel like I can play in any league, for that matter.
BB: With the last two Jays #1 picks being middle infielders, do you think much about the competition to get to the next level?
DR: They're all great players, but I've just got to focus on my game. If I work hard and stay consistent, I want to play in the big leagues, whether that's with Toronto or with somebody else.
BB: You were the second round pick in the last draft prior to J.P. Ricciardi's regime. Have you noticed any changes in the organization?
DR: Their philosophy has changed, with the approach at the plate. They want you to take more pitches, work the count, and focus on on-base percentage. That pretty much fits my game - I've always been a guy with a good on-base percentage, and my ratio of walks to strikeouts is pretty good, so it all fits with my philosophy as a hitter.
BB: We got to see you on TV in spring training last year. What was it like in the big-league camp?
DR: It was great. I can't say one thing bad about any of the guys up there. I felt like I belonged there, and it's good when you fit in like that.
BB: How about Brian Butterfield, has he helped?
DR: He worked a lot with me on my double-play pivot. I feel like my hands are pretty quick, but he gave me a few things to refine that. Just his intensity and passion for the game makes me want to work harder.
Dominic Rich is built like a fire hydrant, which is perhaps why there have been naysaying whispers about his defensive ability in the middle of the diamond. When saw Rich during spring training in 2003, we noted a resemblance to a similarly-built ballplayer who broke in with the Cincinnati Reds as a second baseman.
BB: Is there a major-league player you grew up following, or patterning yourself after?
DR: You know, I always loved Pete Rose, the way he went about playing the game. His passion was unbelievable. He said, "I'd wear a gasoline suit and walk through hell to play baseball," and that kind of sends chills down your spine, his intensity.
BB: You stare down the opposing pitcher the same way Pete did. Is that deliberate?
DR: (laughing) I think the one-on-one part of the game, you against the pitcher, is something I really feed off. Baseball's a team sport, but at bat it's one-on-one, and I like that aspect of the game as well. You don't have to dislike the pitcher, but I think it helps.
In our post-interview "round table" we wondered if Dominic really fit into the Jays plans as much as [Syracuse second baseman] Jorge Sequea. Gerry said the best way to make it is to be either a glove man, or a Howie Clark/Simon Pond type hitter. Robert compared him to a .280 hitter utility infielder with a decent glove - a Ryan Freel type. Kent compared his 2003 "write-off" season to Reed Johnson's 2002 and said he's picked up where he left off after leading the Florida State League in batting average. Robert said he might not displace O-Dog, but a good year with the bat will put him on the radar of other organizations. Whoever was knocking his defence must not have seen him play; we were impressed by his range. There's also no doubt about the fire in his belly.
A special thanks to Coach for transcribing the audio.