Szymanski ready to put injuries in his past
By Marc Katz
Dayton Daily News
SARASOTA, Fla. | — Heads turned at the first sound, then came the low rumbling of "Wows" when B.J. Szymanski's long home run crashed off the aluminum batting cage roof more than 400 feet away.
The first sound was the crack of the bat on Diamond 4 behind Ed Smith Stadium at the Reds' spring training complex. The second sound came complete with a dent in the roof in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor-leaguers.
It was the kind of power Szymanski, 23, showed last season for the Class A Midwest League Dayton Dragons, which is where he'll also start this season. That's only because 2004's second-round draft pick has had limited playing time his first two seasons because of injuries. He pulled a quad during his rookie year at Billings and played in only 22 games. Last year he was reduced to 50 games at Dayton, sitting out two months with a freak knee injury and another month after running into the center field wall to make a catch and breaking a bone in the little finger of his left hand.
He still hit three homers at Billings and 10 in Dayton, including two in the same game the day he returned from the first injury.
"Hopefully, I can accomplish the same things," Szymanski said Thursday. "I'd like to stay out of the training room if I can."
Szymanski played four games for the Dragons, then came up lame warming up for the home opener at Fifth Third Field. He was doing high knee bends when a bone chip from years before came loose and locked up his knee.
The 6-foot-5 Szymanski, a former football receiver, wanted to begin his third season at a higher level than "low" A, but understands the need to get to the plate a few more times.
He would have played more in the postseason instructional league, but opted instead to finish his degree work at Princeton in psychology and pre-med.
"It's always an option," Szymanski said, "if baseball doesn't work out."
• Bobby Mosby followed Szymanski with a homer Thursday as the Dragons scored three runs in the first inning. However, the team eventually lost 12-3.
• Speaking of homers, Terrence Long, recently acquired from the Royals but expected to begin the season at Class AAA Louisville, was taking batting practice with some Class A players when he sent a long homer into the lunch area behind the right-field fence on Field 4.
A second before the ball crashed into a picnic table about an inch from where prospect Joey Votto was sitting, one of the outfielders yelled, "Look out." The warning was way too late, but at least no one was hurt. Votto's water bottle turned over onto the Sports Illustrated he was reading, though. • Stressing fundamentals more, the Reds are spending more time on drills in the minors. Nearly an hour was used Thursday morning on the 27-out drill, where coaches call out situations, hit the ball and watch the fielders make the plays.
"You try to get to 27 outs before making a mistake," said Freddie Benavides, the organization's infield coordinator and a former big leaguer and manager of the Dragons in 2000. "If you make a mistake, it goes back to zero.
"We do this early in spring training and sometimes during the season.
It's what I did that night in Dayton when I kept the players after the game on a Saturday night. It teaches the players to think for themselves."
Contact Marc Katz at 225-2157.