Stern hits the big time

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:31 AM ET

'Hey, Johnny! Johnny Damon! Hey, sign this card, please. Hey, Johnny!"

"Hey, Kevin! Kevin Millar! Hey, sign this card please. Hey, Kevin."

"Hey Adam! Adam Stern! Hey, sign this card please. Hey, Adam!"

It doesn't really matter whether you've had 473 at-bats like Damon this season, 360 like Millar or 15 like Stern, these are The Bigs.

Fans want your attention, your autograph. You eat the same food, travel on the same jets, stay in the same upscale hotels as the superstars.

London's Adam Stern comes off the field after pregame batting practice and begins signing autographs at Detroit's Comerica Park. He can sign only a few before it's time for him to head into the clubhouse to prepare for the Red Sox-Tigers game.

His numbers are a long way from those being put up by Damon. He isn't as well known as most of his World Series champion teammates. He'll spend another night on the bench and in the three-game series against the Tigers will see the field only once.

While his quick route to the major leagues is a surprise, his lack of playing time isn't.

A year ago, Stern had just finished his sojourn with Canada's team at the Athens Olympics. He was looking to head back to AA ball in the Atlanta Braves organization. Instead, thanks to the Rule 5 draft, Stern is plying his trade with the Red Sox. Unless the Red Sox want to return him to the Braves organization, he'll remain with the major-league team until the end of the season. It's a huge jump from AA to the major leagues.

Who knows what's going to happen in the playoffs or next season. That's not something Stern is concerned about. What he would be pleased to hear is the comments made by Red Sox first-base coach Lynn Jones, a man who works closely teaching Stern about the game at the major league level.

"He's learning," Jones said. "He plays good solid defence and his hitting is coming around. He still has some things he has to do. But he has all the basic tools and skills and they are above average. He runs and he has speed. It's what everybody wants and you can't replace that.

"Using his speed has helped this ball club.

"Since he's been here in a limited role, he's done well. He'll continue to get better. We like him a lot."

Stern, 25, has appeared in 28 games, mostly as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. He's had 15 at-bats and is hitting .133. He has a stolen base and a home run.

Stern said he knows he's getting the baseball education he needs if he's ever going to make it as a major league starter.

"The toughest adjustment is not being an everyday player," Stern said during the Tigers-Red Sox series. "I've been here a month and a half and I've got 15 at-bats. You get 15 at-bats in three days when you're playing every day. It's hard to stay prepared for live pitching when you don't face live pitching all the time. You try to put up a quality at-bat and sometimes that's hard to do. If you get a chance to hit and don't get a hit, you start thinking about it."

It's difficult not to put pressure on yourself to perform. Little things take on more significance.

"I got a start (a week ago), did some good things, got a hit and the game was rained out and so the hit didn't count in the statistics," he said. "For a guy who doesn't play that much, that's tough."

A veteran coach and player such as Jones knows exactly what Stern is feeling.

"He wants to impress. Sometimes his mistakes are because he's over-aggressive," Jones said. "He has to find patience. When he gets a chance, make it a plus. You don't have to go in and have things appear in the paper. Do something positive. It could be as simple as making a catch to help the team.

"You don't have to be the highlight film. You just have to not be noticed."

He's become pretty good friends with the popular Damon. He's already had a home run. He's playing with the defending World Series champions in the midst of a pennant race against the hated New York Yankees.

Playing time aside, Stern enjoys being a major leaguer.

"Boston is a big-market team with a lot of media," Stern said. "There is added pressure. One little mess-up and they're all over you. That's just part of the game. You have to take the good with the bad. You get used to playing in front of all those people watching. You just block everything out."

Like every guy who plays in the major leagues, he remembers his first home run in detail.

"It came a lot earlier than I thought," he said. "It came against (the White Sox's Dustin) Hermanson. I got the ball back and that was nice. It was a 1-1 slider, middle in. I threw the barrel of the bat at it and it jumped. I'm not used to that happening. I knew it was going. I didn't stand there or nothing. I was like sprinting around the bases and everyone was saying, 'Slow down and enjoy it. You've got to enjoy that one. Your first one only comes once. Take your time.' But I couldn't. I was too excited."

Stern's parents, Jane and Joe, are sharing their son's adventure. They were in Detroit, and have been in Boston and Baltimore. They saw his first hit but had to watch his home run on the Internet.

"I think the neighbours could hear us scream," Jane said. "I saw him hit it and I'm thinking, 'Please don't touch it.' When they went up to get the ball from the fans, I was thrilled for him.

"We thought, 'Wow, dreams do come true.' You always tell kids to believe and never give up."

Detroit was family reunion time for Stern. Jane and Joe were there for every game but there was a revolving door of others who joined, including his grandfather, aunt, brother, his brother's girlfriend and friend.

"You get taxed on tickets these days. I'm trying to make money here, not lose it to tickets," Stern said with a laugh.

Making the big leagues means a lot of people will want a piece of him.

"I've got calls from people I haven't heard from in five, 10 years, saying they want to talk to me. I'm thinking, 'You didn't want to talk to me in A ball,' " Stern said. "They told me that this is how it was going to be and I said, 'Come on, who's going to call me?' I know now why people keep two cellphones, the one you want to answer and the other one where you screen calls."

Welcome to The Bigs.

ADAM STERN

- Born Feb. 12, 1980

- Five-foot-11, 180 pounds

- Bats left, throws right

- Parents Jane and Joe; older brother Jason former member of Canada's World Cup bobsledding team

- Graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas high school, 1998

- Ontario-calibre track and field athlete in 100, 200, 400 metres

- Played in the London Badgers minor league baseball system and Ontario Blue Jays system

- Drafted 1998, 22nd round, by the Toronto Blue Jays; didn't sign

- Three years at the University of Nebraska, where he played in the College World Series

- 2001 selected first team all-academic, all Big 12 with Nebraska

- Top Canadian selected 2001 major league baseball draft, third round (105th overall), Atlanta Braves

- 2004, Atlanta AA player of the year in Greenville, hitting .322, eight home runs, 47 RBI, 27 steals

- Member of Canada's national men's team in 2004 Athens Olympics

- Selected by Boston Red Sox in 2004 major league Rule 5 draft


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