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Archive for Thursday, June 19, 1997

LYONS LEARNS MINORS NO MICKEY MOUSE AFFAIR

June 19, 1997

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Maybe it's appropriate Tim Lyons' first professional baseball stop is in the shadow of the Kingdom of the Mouse.

Lyons, a 1997 Kansas University graduate, was one of two Jayhawks chosen in this spring's amateur baseball draft. Tapped in the 36th round by the Atlanta Braves, he has spent the past week in Orlando, Fla., practicing with the Gulf Coast Braves, Atlanta's Rookie League team.

Lyons' Braves play their home games in Kissimmee, at Disney's Wide World of Sports, which, of course, is just down the turnpike from Disney World.

And Lyons, a right-handed pitcher at the ripe old age of 22, feels like he's surrounded by kids.

"They have one kid here who's 15," Lyons said. "Of course, he's 6-4, but he's only 15. I'm the oldest guy on the team. There are a couple of college players, a couple of junior college players, but I think there's only one other guy who went to a four-year school. Most of the other guys are fresh out of high school -- or kids from Latin America."

One day last week, Lyons called back home to Mission Viejo, Calif., and told his father, George, about his young teammates.

Dad's advice: Don't get caught buying them beer.

Life in the minors, Lyons has learned, isn't all fun and games. In fact, it hasn't been much fun so far, and there haven't been any games.

"It's going OK," Lyons said. "It's a lot of work. It's a different lifestyle than I had envisioned. I don't know too much about what's going on, to tell you the truth. We haven't played any games yet. We go down to the field, work out and come back to the hotel. That's pretty much what we've been doing."

Even coming back to the hotel has become quite an adventure for Lyons. Once, he became lost inside his new digs.

"Hey, man, there's at least 1,500 or 2,000 rooms in this place," Lyons said with a laugh. "It's a big place."

Whether the Braves organization is big enough to keep Lyons remains to be seen.

Lyons doesn't know the odds of him making the team. He's older than most draftees, and he has only been a pitcher for four seasons. On the other hand, he's more experienced than most draftees ... and he has only been a pitcher for four years.

"I don't have any idea what the future holds," Lyons said. "I'm guessing, with my age, it will be a matter of consistency. I asked my coach what my strengths and weaknesses are, and he said most of my stuff was good enough to move up the ranks to the different levels. But he said consistency would be the main factor that would hold me back or maybe someday get me released."

In the vernacular, Lyons has good stuff. Usually. His fastball regularly reaches 90 mph. But he sometimes struggles to find the strike zone.

Lyons was 0-0 with a 7.00 earned run average as a freshman, 1-1 with a 7.59 ERA as a sophomore and 1-0 with a 15.80 ERA as a junior. This spring, Lyons was 3-4 with a 5.77 ERA.

In other words, he pitches kind of like a high school shortstop who just started pitching in college -- which, of course, he is.

"The good thing is, they're not trying to discourage anyone," Lyons said of the Braves. "Everyone gets a shot. I think if there's a 17-year-old kid and a 22-year-old guy, if we put up the same numbers, there'd be more reason to work with the kid. But I feel I have a slight advantage. I've been in higher competition than most of these guys. Maybe I'll go out and be the first one to do the job."

At least he's having a better spring than KU's other draftee, Joe DeMarco. A shortstop who led the Big 12 in batting average, DeMarco took a bad hop during a workout at the Padres' Rookie League team in Peoria, Ariz. The ball broke his cheekbone and put DeMarco on the disabled list for four weeks.

In contrast, Lyons' biggest concern is playing baseball with a bunch of kids.

"No, it's not that bad," Lyons said. "I've made some friends. One friend has connections at Disney World. I haven't used 'em yet, but we can get in for free. I plan to go see what downtown Orlando is like. We play some of our games in West Palm Beach. There are some things I'm looking forward to."

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