Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Yanks Star Shows Right Tenor for a Pitched Battle

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Yanks Star Shows Right Tenor for a Pitched Battle

Article excerpt

As John Lennon might sing, "Hey . . . you've got to hide your player away . . . " Or, as a Cardinals advance scout watching the American League Championship Series put it, "Those things have been known to happen once in a while."

The cloak-and-dagger routine that turned Bernie Williams, guitar aficionado, track star extraordinaire, into "Bernie Baseball," the pride and joy of the New York Yankees, is one of "those things."

Williams was a skinny high school kid in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1985. He was infatuated with classical guitar and accomplished enough to attend the Escuela Libre De Musica High School. At the same time, he was a promising athlete in track. At age 15, he won four gold medals at an international meet and was considered among the world's top four 400-meter runners in his age group. As a sidelight, he played some little league baseball, like most kids in the neighborhood. And while baseball scouts were paying close attention to some of his Puerto Rican contemporaries, such as Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez, no one had caught on to Williams - except Yankees scout Roberto Rivera. Rivera called Doug Melvin, then a Yankees minor-league executive, and told him: "You've got to get down here. I just saw the next Dave Winfield." Melvin came, but Williams was too young to sign a professional contract. Fearful of losing him to another team, the Yankees brought Williams to Connecticut, enrolled him in a prep school, and kept him under wraps. When he turned 16 a few months later, they signed him to a minor-league contract. Williams, 28, is under wraps no more. In nine postseason games heading into the World Series, he batted .474 with five home runs and 11 runs batted in, caught everything within a 5-mile radius of center field, and put his speed to disruptive and opportunistic use on the basepaths. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series, and he will be the Most Dangerous Player the Braves must contend with in the World Series. "Bernie Williams has become such a presence on this ballclub," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "The other players seem to rally around him. He sets the tone." For St. Louis fans, a parallel might be drawn to Cardinals outfielder Brian Jordan. Like Jordan, Williams was not baseball-bred, mentally and mechanically tuned in to the sport since childhood. He is, like Jordan, a raw athletic talent, a conglomerate of strength, speed and savvy that lends itself to any sport. He is, like Jordan, still learning the intricacies of a sometimes-sensational but often-subtle game. Torre, who managed the Cardinals from 1990-1995, sees the similarities. "They both have the same kind of intensity, except Brian shows his more," Torre said. "With Bernie, it's more mental intensity. Bernie is just realizing how good he can be and constantly trying to learn. …

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