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EXTREME MAKEOVER OFFENSE CONTINUES ITS STRUGGLES VS. JAYS' ACE.

Byline: TONY JACKSON Staff Writer

Someone forgot to explain the rules to J.D. Drew.

This, after all, is Southern California, where an image makeover requires a trendy, image-makeover consultant, which in turn requires a considerable image- makeover consultant fee. Drew comes from the common-sense world of tiny Hahira, Ga., where people don't spend money on their images, consultants or makeovers of any kind.

Yet, here he is, with an image so dramatically drastically different from what it was just five weeks ago -- and it didn't cost him a dime.

Eat your wallets out, Hollywood.

``This is just so far removed from last season,'' Drew said.

By the end of September, the Dodgers were finishing 20 games below .500 without Drew, who had become the poster boy for overpriced, under- productive players who spend too much time on the disabled list.

He played only 72 games, had begun the season by going hitless in his first 25 at-bats and had missed the final three months while on the shelf for the sixth time in eight major-league seasons. He left Atlanta to sign a five-year, $55 million contract -- this after the first full, injury-free season of his big-league career -- and didn't come close in his first year with the Dodgers to producing the way he had in his only year with the Braves. It became fashionable to call Drew a colossal bust.

Never mind that his latest injury was a broken wrist, suffered when he was hit by a pitch July 3.

``There was absolutely nothing I could do to control that,'' Drew said. ``At that point in the season, I had found what I was looking for with my swing and was right on track for where I wanted to be. It was just one of those unfortunate things. I didn't see the ball well, and it came inside. I tried to get out of the way.

``I was as disappointed as anybody when I saw the X-rays.''

Fast forward to the present, when Drew at times has carried what, until this past weekend, was a struggling offense. Very quietly, Drew has led all Dodgers regulars in home runs (six) and RBIs (22) while hitting .280, an average that was much higher before he went hitless in his past eight at-bats and was given a rest Sunday.

He has had an 11-game hitting streak, he has reached base safely in all but three of the games he has played, and he didn't ground into his first double play until the seventh inning Friday night.

Talk about your image makeovers.

``Baseball can be kind of a roller coaster, and I'm just trying to play on an even keel,'' Drew said. ``I don't want to get over-excited when hitting a home run, and I don't want to get too down if I take an oh-fer. That's the way I was taught to play in college and even a little bit in high school.''

Drew might not be terribly excited about his own production, but club officials are ecstatic. It's nice to have at least someone, in what at times has been a punchless lineup, who is actually producing.

``I have heard (someone) tell me he is the best baseball player they ever put on the field,'' said Dodgers manager Grady Little, referring to a member of the Braves' coaching staff he declined to identify. ``He's a complete player. He can do it all on a baseball field. Our No.1 objective is just to keep him out there.''

Drew has been so hot that last week Little moved him from his customary third in the lineup to the cleanup spot, replacing the slumping Jeff Kent.

Another knock against Drew has been that he is a nice complementary player, but isn't comfortable being an offensive centerpiece. Little shrugged that off, and Drew responded with five hits in his first 12 at-bats batting fourth, including a pair of home runs in the first game.

At 30, Drew still gets booed in Philadelphia, the price for having refused to sign with the Phillies after they drafted him out of Florida State in 1997 because they wouldn't give him the $11 million signing bonus agent Scott Boras was seeking.

That saga left the first dent in Drew's public perception. He signed with St. Louis a year later, was in the majors late that season and wound up having at least two productive years for the Cardinals. Still, all anyone seemed to want to talk about were the injuries.

He had a big year with the Braves in 2004, but all anyone wanted to talk about then was the free-agency jackpot that awaited him in the fall. Finally, when he signed with the Dodgers, all anyone wanted to talk about was that Boras had insisted on an escape clause after the secondyear, something else people used as evidence Drew was selfish.

Drew said if he uses that clause, it won't be to seek an even bigger contract on the heels of a solid season. It was included only as a hedge, in case he and his wife, Sheigh, also from Hahira, found life in Los Angeles wasn't to their liking.

``Basically, we were concerned a little bit about coming this far from home,'' Drew said. ``We had heard the stories about the traffic and all that. So I talked to Scott, and he put that in so we wouldn't have to be unhappy here for five years. But we love where we're at in Pasadena, because it's so close to the ballpark.

``This has been a great fit for us so far.''

tony.jackson@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3675

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

(color) DREW

Box:

DODGERS VS. HOUSTON

-Tony Jackson
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 9, 2006
Words:954
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