Cust on the cusp of stardom

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

OAKLAND -- The low point of Jack Cust's 10-year minor-league career came at triple-A Ottawa in 2004.

The high point is running nightly and what the Blue Jays will see on the other side of the bay.

The Oakland A's know slugging. They've had Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada.

And yet Cust was the first Oakland player to hit six homers in his first seven games after his arrival May 6.

He played 1,114 games in the minors and 70 games in parts of four major-league seasons. Cust has 22 homers in 300 at-bats going into last night's series opener.

To fully comprehend the current high, you have to examine the low which illustrates how baseball is a game for survivors.

Cust made the Baltimore Orioles roster out of spring training in 2004. Then, he was placed on waivers as the O's recalled Erik Bedard, of Navan, Ont.

"They brought up Bedard, which was a good move, but they fouled up the transaction," Cust recalled.

"They told me to go home. I didn't have a team. But Bedard had been sent down five days before and they couldn't bring him up for 10 days unless someone was hurt."

So, Cust headed home to New Jersey and waited.

A new waiver start date began a few days later.

Then, the O's phoned and told him to join Ottawa.

"I thought about quitting, about not reporting, but I went," Cust said.

"I loved the city, we lived on the 30th floor of a high rise on Laurier that looked out over all the beautiful buildings.

"I figured my time in the minors was over. And I didn't get along with the manager."

Cust is asked to name the manager but he can't remember. But in about 15 seconds it comes back -- Tim Leiper.

"He wouldn't play me every day ... even as a DH," Cust said. "I told him I thought I was the best hitter on his team and he said: 'We have lots of good players.' This was two years after I was an all-star at triple-A (23 homers at Colorado Springs)."

The new upper-cased A's slugger tells of a phone call he received this winter from Luke Carlin, of Aylmer, Que.

"Luke was in the Dominican and ran into Leiper coaching and Luke is raving about our 2006 team at Portland and he says: 'You should have seen this guy we had -- 143 walks, 30 bombs and 70 RBIs,' " Cust said.

"Luke told me that Leiper said: 'Oh, I've heard of him.' "

Cust spent 2003 at Ottawa under manager Gary Allenson. He hit 200 homers during 10 seasons in the minors, 37 wearing the uniform of Canadian teams ... 11 with rookie-class Lethbridge in 1998 and 26 in two years at Ottawa.

"I get people coming up to me saying: 'Hey, I saw you play with Lethbridge,' " Cust said.

"I had played the year before in the Arizona rookie league, but Lethbridge was my introduction to pro ball. We had good fans and it was a great community."

A first-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1997, Cust moved up the chain to single-A High Desert and double-A El Paso in 2000.

In June, the Diablos promoted first baseman Lyle Overbay.

"What you see Jack Cust doing now is exactly what he was doing at El Paso, he was a guy you watched and thought, 'man will he be fun to watch every day in the major leagues,' " the Jays first baseman said before last night's game. "He never really got a chance to play every day until now.

"El Paso was a good hitters park, but San Antonio wasn't and he made the park look real small. "He hit some balls that would travel and travel.''

Overbay hit .352 with eight homers and 49 RBIs, while Cust batted .293 with 20 homers and 75 RBIs.

Cust was all set to leave Portland and head for Japan, when A's GM Billy Beane contacted San Diego GM Kevin Towers looking for someone to replace Mike Piazza, who had injured his shoulder.

Cust is no longer forever on the cusp.


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