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Player traded for 10 bats sees it as shot at redemption

5/30/2008

ALEXANDRIA, La. -- An umpire teasingly calls him "Bat
Man." His teammates consider it an embarrassment and a "slap in
the face." His former ballclub sees it as a bit of harmless fun.

Sure, it sounds like the punchline of a cruel joke, or maybe an
episode from baseball's more colorful past.

But minor league pitcher John Odom sees the trade that sent him
from the Calgary Vipers to the Laredo Broncos for 10 baseball bats
as a shot at redemption.

And that opportunity for the 26-year-old right-hander begins
Saturday, when he's scheduled to pitch against the Edinburg Coyotes
of the independent United League.

"I'm still in shock from this phenomenon, I guess," Odom said
as his teammates warmed up Wednesday for their game against the
Alexandria Aces. "I don't know how to describe it. It's
mind-boggling."

The deal that sent Odom to Laredo in exchange for the load of
high-quality lumber is part of a baseball journey for a man not yet
willing to give up the idea that he can pitch at a high level.

The trade has made Odom the butt of jokes, yet he's not angry.

"What's up, Bat Man?" umpire Dewey Larson said as he walked
past Odom, who was sitting for an interview. The pitcher just
smiled and said, "If he wasn't my umpire ... "

"In all honesty, he has been the bigger man in the situation,
the bigger man," said Odom's roommate, Nathan Crawford. "What's
happened to him -- I'm going to go ahead and say it -- it's pretty
low. It's kind of like a slap in the face. And it could taint your
career if people don't know who you are."

Maybe expectations about Odom are low, but three Broncos players
who were in the San Francisco Giants' minor league system say
they've seen him throw in the 93 mph range.

"I don't know why he got traded for bats," Broncos pitcher
Benny Cepeda said. "That ain't right. He's a good guy. He has
really good stuff."

Odom grew up in Atlanta playing baseball, but gave it up from
age 17 to 21.

"I was a lost youth," he said. "I was a very troubled kid. I
was just lost is all I can say."

He moved to Tallahassee, Fla., got in touch with the coach at a
community college and threw in the high 80s and low 90s in a tryout
observed by a major league scout.

"They were like, 'Oooh, wow, who the heck is this kid?' " Odom
said.

San Francisco drafted the 6-foot-2 Odom in 2003, but he was
beset by injuries - a chipped bone in his foot, elbow surgery in
2005. He pitched a full season in low Class A ball in 2006 before
dislocating his left shoulder and missing 2007.

He was 9-8 in parts of three seasons with the Giants' Class A
teams, striking out 113 and walking only 36 in 140 innings with an
ERA of 4.05.

Odom knows he's five years past the age most prospects are
reaching their prime. But with all the setbacks, Odom can't shake
the feeling he hasn't made his best effort yet.

The Giants invited him to spring training this year, but his
first batting practice pitch nearly hit the batter and the second
ended up beyond the outfield wall.

He was released and then signed with Calgary of the Golden
Baseball League but couldn't get into Canada because of a minor but
unspecified charge on his juvenile record. So he asked Calgary to
trade him, and a few days later the deal was struck, sending Odom
to the Broncos for 10 Prairie Sticks maple bats, worth about $650.

It's not the first time a player has been traded for something
strange. Calgary, in fact, once tried to acquire a pitcher for
1,500 blue seats when its stadium was being renovated.

"You hear of players traded for bats. That's not unusual,"
said Laredo interim manager Jon Hinkel. "Baseballs, uniforms,
oysters, side of beef. It happens all the time. Nine out of 10
times when someone's traded and it's not for a particular player,
they usually put in there, 'For future considerations."'

Calgary Vipers president Peter Young said he never intended to
embarrass Odom.

"We're a little crazy," Young said. "Our motto is, 'Minor
league baseball is supposed to be fun.' So if there's anything else
you can do to make it more fun, you go ahead and do it."

The bats were to be auctioned for charity, but Ripley
Entertainment bought them for $10,000 and will use them in a
"Believe It or Not" exhibit that will likely include a lifelike
wax reproduction of Odom.

"This may not be the most bizarre trade ever done, but it
certainly ranks up there, said Tim O'Brien, a Ripley's spokesman.

Hinkel said if Odom can pull the pieces of his career back
together, the scouts will notice.

"If he comes out here and does his job, takes command of the
strike zone and puts up good numbers, his name's already out there
enough, he shouldn't be here very long then," Hinkel said.

Odom said he worried about becoming "a walking parody," but
the buzz created by his story has had the opposite effect. An
Internet search of his name gets more than 51,000 entries.

"You know, honestly, it can only get better careerwise. Oh,
yeah," Odom said. "I mean people are going to come see me pitch
now just to see if I can even throw the ball straight. 'Wow, he hit
the mitt once. He's good. The trade's a success!"'

He's aware of some of the comments being made about him.

"People are like 'I'd kill myself' and stuff,' " Odom said.
"I'm like, 'God, dude, that's all you think life is about,
sports?' You get to know me, I'm a lot deeper. There's a lot more
to me than baseball.

"I don't want people to think this is what defines me as a
person. I look through my whole life for things that
define me, things that are important to me. Not just baseball. I
want to have a family and land and be a good man's man in society.
That means a lot to me."

And he wouldn't trade that for anything -- certainly not for a
few baseball bats.