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Anteaters aim to fill gaps

February 02, 2006|By By Barry Faulkner

"This is a pitchers' park and it's not a power-hitting park. But we've adopted the philosophy that it can still be an offensive park. Because the gaps are so big here, any ball hit into the gap is almost a sure triple. We'll trade doubles and triples for home runs and we'll try to have outfielders who can run down balls hit in the gaps to try and limit triples."

The Anteaters (31-25 last season) were outscored, 1,909-1,906, in 56 games. They lost more than half of their home-run production from last year's squad and have only three players back who drove a ball over the fence last season.

Jaime Martinez, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound first baseman and designated hitter, hit five homers last year to lead the team. Martinez, whose .339 average in 2005 ranked third on the team, has 13 home runs and 77 RBI in his first three seasons at UCI. He hit 26 varsity home runs at Hueneme High, a school record.

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"It can get frustrating at times, playing in a big ballpark," Martinez said. "You kind of have to learn to deal with it and make it work to your advantage. If you think about hitting home runs all the time, it's going to damage your swing. I try to work on hitting line drives."

Junior Spike McDougal, forced to redshirt last season due to a torn labrum after transferring from Diablo Valley College, will open the season in center field for UCI. He will be challenged both offensively and defensively by his home ballpark.

"I'm excited about the chance to use my speed and athleticism to try and run balls down in the gaps," said McDougal, who made a sparkling over-the-shoulder catch of a drive near the fence in Saturday's alumni game.

McDougal, a 6-4, 190-pounder who said he has a little lift in his swing, does not hold illusions about hitting home runs at home.

"I was a home-run hitter in high school and I had six the first week at Diablo Valley [in 2004] before everybody stopped pitching to me," McDougal said. "But I'm trying to flatten out my swing. I won't hit as many home runs here, but I still believe this can be an offensive park, because the gaps are so big. I want to hit line drives into the gaps."

The Anteaters, picked to finish third behind Fullerton and Long Beach State in the Big West Conference preseason coaches' poll, will be trying to close the gap between themselves and their neighboring powers.

"It's kind of a reserved optimism," said Serrano, who admits his team enters the season "under the radar," but likes the squad's improved depth.

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