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Archive for Saturday, July 31, 2004

City baseball standouts to play at ‘The K’

July 31, 2004

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Matt Berner and Derek Bailey dreamed about playing at Kauffman Stadium while growing up in Lawrence.

The Kansas University baseball players will have their chance Sunday morning during the Ban Johnson League All-Star Game at Kansas City, Mo.

"That's extremely exciting," said Berner, a Free State High graduate who will be a red-shirt freshman at Kansas University. "I've played on a lot of nice fields, but I'm sure that's going to be the nicest playing surface I've played on."

Berner, an infielder for Arrow Rents, will suit up for the J All-Stars along with Arrow Rents teammate and KU sophomore football player Charles Gordon, who plans to join the Kansas baseball team in the spring.

Bailey, a third-year KU sophomore from Lawrence High, will play outfield for the B All-Stars.

"I can't wait," Bailey said of playing in the major-league park. "That place is awesome. I've been to a lot of games there. I dreamed about it, definitely."

Bailey hit .250 in 24 games for KU as a backup outfielder as a red-shirt freshman this spring. He was among the leaders in Kansas City's summer league for college-aged players with 25 doubles and a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.

He thought playing in the wood-bat league would help him when he switches back to aluminum during KU's fall workouts.

"If you don't hit the sweet spot, you're not going to hit the ball nearly as far with a wood bat," Bailey said. "You have to have a much more efficient swing. You can't make any mistakes. If you're off with a wood bat, you're going to break your bat or ground out. With aluminum, you might get lucky sometimes."

Berner took a red-shirt season in the spring after walking on at KU. He's had an outstanding summer and ranks among the Ban Johnson League leaders with a .338 batting average and 23 RBIs. He hit .419 with runners in scoring position.

Berner played shortstop at Free State, but with junior Ritchie Price entrenched at that position at KU, Berner has played a lot of second base this summer to make himself more versatile.

"The more positions you can play, the better your chances of getting on the field," he said.

Berner turned down junior-college scholarship offers and paid his own way to KU.

"I knew it was going to be tough, and I wouldn't play right away," he said. "But I'm from Lawrence, and KU has great academics. I thought, 'Why not stay here and take advantage of what's available to me?' I missed playing in the spring, but I have no regrets.

"I'm going to be there and work hard and see what happens. I'll take any playing time that's given to me and help the team anyway I can."

Gordon, who will report to KU's preseason football camp Aug. 6, still has playoff games to look forward to with Arrow Rents next week. Playing baseball for the first time since high school, the third-year sophomore from Carson, Calif., enters the weekend hitting .305.

"He's improved a lot," said Arrow Rents coach John Hill, who will manage the J All-Stars. "He started hitting the ball well at the end of the year."

The nine-inning All-Star Game will start at 8:30 a.m. before the Kansas City Royals take on the Cleveland Indians at 1:10 p.m. at Kauffman Stadium. A Royals ticket is required to attend the All-Star Game. The ticket office will open at 7:15 a.m. Sunday.

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