March 10, 2004
Solid Minor Leaguer Wants The Big Guys to Take Note
By Jack Curry
TAMPA, Fla., March 9 - Bubba Crosby just wants to be noticed. It could be for anything and it could be by anyone. Perhaps it will be for a smart at-bat or a stolen base. Maybe it will be by the Yankees or by scouts from another team. His desire never wavers. Someone, somewhere, please look at me.
Crosby is a 27-year-old outfielder with tired eyes and a hopeful voice. He has one major league hit and the daunting task of trying to sneak onto a $180 million roster that has virtually been set. There do not seem to be any openings for a minor league lifer, and there are seldom positions on the produce-every-minute Yankees for a player like Bubba Crosby.
Life might be different if Crosby were on the Milwaukee Brewers, a team with a meager payroll and no expectations for the postseason, a team that is more designed to search for a possible talent wearing No. 62.
Crosby tries not to dwell on the dreary odds, but they are impossible to ignore.
"You're human," Crosby said. "It's hard not to go through this lineup in your head and wonder if there's an opportunity for you. It doesn't get you anywhere. All it can do is discourage you."
Sometimes there are encouraging moments for Crosby, specks of light at the end of the long tunnel to the majors. When the Yankees said Monday that right fielder Gary Sheffield might be out two to three months with a thumb injury, General Manager Brian Cashman and Manager Joe Torre mentioned Crosby as insurance in the outfield. Apparently, someone had noticed.
Cashman called Crosby "a throwback and grinding type." Torre said Crosby intrigued him because of his versatility, his speed and his ability to make contact. The praise was nice, but Crosby is competing with Darren Bragg, a veteran of 869 major league games, and Torre also plans to audition the first basemen Travis Lee and Tony Clark and the infielder Homer Bush in the outfield. Torre acknowledged that Crosby was the sort of useful reserve who could help the Yankees if Sheffield or Bernie Williams (appendectomy) were unavailable for the opener or could help them win games in September, when rosters expand to 40 players from 25. So, the compliment had a catch.
"He's got a nice little game," Torre said. "He puts the ball in play. He can play all three outfield positions. He brings a dimension we don't have."
Crosby, a 1998 first-round draft pick whom the Yankees obtained from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Robin Ventura trade last July, learned on Tuesday that Sheffield would try to continue playing and avoid surgery. Although Sheffield's successful return is not guaranteed, whatever hope Crosby saw in the crowded outfield equation faded.
"There's a lot of stuff that goes on around here," Crosby said. "You can't let yourself think about it or get you upset. You can't control it."
Crosby, who played in nine games for the Dodgers last season, has a solid minor league résumé. He was hitting .362 with 12 homers at Class AAA Las Vegas when the Yankees acquired him, then hit .309 at Class AAA Columbus. A career .285 minor league hitter, Crosby has an approach at the plate reminiscent of Chuck Knoblauch's. He is a leadoff type batter, patient and pesky. Knoblauch and Crosby graduated from Bellaire High School in Texas, and Ray Knoblauch, Chuck's father, coached both of them there.
Though Knoblauch implored Crosby to relax and ignore the intimidating roster numbers when they had dinner in January, Crosby was nervous when he discovered he was playing center field and batting leadoff against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez followed Crosby in the lineup.
After a few minutes, Crosby scolded himself and reminded himself that the Yankees played the game the same way as the Dodgers and Rice University, his alma mater. Crosby calmed down, smacked a single in five at-bats and made a nice catch. There were even a handful of "Come on, Bubba" shouts.
"You get your head together about how this is the game you've played all your life," Crosby said. "I've only had a month in the big leagues, so some of this is all new to me."
Crosby sent his father, Steve, an e-mail message saying he did not know anything about his status with the Yankees. No one has said anything to Crosby, and it is unlikely anyone will until he is told to return to Columbus or he completes a shocking story and makes the Yankees.
"I sent him back an e-mail and told him to watch out for Goliath," Steve Crosby said. "It's a fear factor. You prepare the best you can. You can't let other things scare you or it's going to impact your performance."
Bubba is David. Anything that interferes with his making it to the major leagues -- which sometimes seems like everything -- is Goliath. So Steve reminded his son that the reason David succeeded against Goliath was because he did not let Goliath's size advantage overwhelm him. David was confident.
Bubba, as David, is confident in his abilities, but realistic, too. He is competing for a reserve outfield position that may not even exist unless there are injuries. And if there is suddenly an opening, Crosby has the least experience among the contenders. Furthermore, the Yankees could always make a trade to fill a vacancy.
"When I see that he's around Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, sometimes you wonder, 'Does he have the talent?' " Steve Crosby said. "Then I see the Yankees playing the Phillies and I say, 'Gee whiz, he's better than him and him.' I think he's a major league player."
But someone with more influence than Bubba Crosby's father needs to believe that he belongs in the majors. Crosby knows that. That is why he keeps trying to be noticed, for anything and by anyone.