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  Tue, June 8, 2004


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OTTAWA LYNX




Stern has his eye on the big time
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

Adam Stern.

Adam Stern has already had a taste of the major leagues and he likes it. He likes it a lot.

So it was only a pair of exhibition games involving his Atlanta Braves against the Boston Red Sox. But there was the London Aquinas grad, sitting on a big-league bench next to manager Bobby Cox.

He made an appearance in both games, coming on in the sixth inning to replace J. D. Drew. He knew he wasn't going to stick but it was a moment to remember.

"It was right after spring training," Stern says. "Only two minor leaguers were called up and I was one of them. They were only exhibition games but you get a chance to see what you can do. There I was, with Bobby Cox, and you never know what might happen if you get a chance to impress him.

"It gets your foot in the door sometimes and they remember you. It was fun."

Stern went back to A ball and was soon promoted to the AA Greenville Braves of the Southern League. In the mass of humanity that is minor league baseball, getting noticed is half the battle.

Stern is making people notice him. The 23-year-old overcame a year of injury and is putting up good numbers with the Braves major AA affiliate. He's hitting .305 in 46 games with two home runs and 17 RBI. He has 11 stolen bases. More important, the former track star is playing centre field, leading off and getting on base.

He has come a long way from last year, having spent most of it on the sidelines trying to recover from pulled hamstrings.

"I had multiple hamstring pulls. I pulled the first one on the third last day of spring training. We didn't rehab it right and then I pulled the other one. It was a back and forth pull session between both my hamstrings for about four months.

"I finally came home to rehab at the Fowler Kennedy Clinic. You know the Fowler Kennedy will help you come back. I told (the Braves) I wanted to come home. I did for six weeks and it worked out pretty well. They got me right."

It was August and he had lost most of the season. But he played well enough in the last month to earn an invite to the Arizona fall league, a league featuring which many top prospects.

"It was a pretty big deal," he says. "I did pretty well."

Stern also played for Canada's national team which qualified for the Athens Olympics.

The minor leagues are all about learning to be a professional.

"Pro ball is all about consistency. The consistent guys are the ones who keep making it," said the University of Nebraska graduate.

The successful learn how to handle the daily grind.

"In college you play three, maybe four games in a week. It's at night, nice and easy. Sometimes here, you go 25, 26 days without a day off. You've got to learn how to limit the peaks and valleys. If you keep beating yourself up you're going to dig yourself a hole you'll never get out of. You've got to learn this game can turn like that."

The voice on the other end of the phone is full of confidence and possibilities.

"Double-A in this organization is where a lot of the prospects are," Stern said.

"Triple-A sometimes is a holding cell for guys who have been up and down. If you can hit in double-A, you can hit in the big leagues. If you have a good year here, you can be knocking on the door next next year."

Just like there's no mistaking the thick southern accent ("I'm only home two weeks a year"), there's no mistaking the joy Stern has playing the game.

"I'm having fun playing. I know what it's like to miss a year to injury.

"That was the most miserable of my life. You take for granted you'll play. Someone took it away from me and you realize how much fun it is to be on the field again.

"I couldn't ask for anything more."