Not Back At The Ranch Young slugger Erubiel Durazo has added razzmatazz to the Diamondbacks

August 15, 1999

When Erubiel Durazo, a Mexican League refugee, joined the
Diamondbacks' Double A team in El Paso in the spring, his new
American teammates quickly shortened his name to Raz. Then, when
he stepped into the cage on his first day in uniform and filled
the dry Texas air with line drives and arcing blasts, he was
again rechristened: Babe.

Like the original Bambino, Durazo, who was called up to Arizona
on July 25, is huge (6'3", 225 pounds). Like Hank Aaron, he wears
number 44. He also has a keen sense of the strike zone and an
ability to spray hits to all fields. Not bad for a guy who less
than three years ago was working all fields on a Mexican ranch.
"Sometimes you get lucky," says Diamondbacks manager Buck
Showalter, "and uncover the unexpected."

Lucky? The lefthanded-hitting Durazo, 25, who through Sunday was
batting .360 (including 3 for 5 in his first start, against the
Padres), is a needle in a world of hay. "Sometimes I find it hard
to believe I'm here," he says in soft, broken English, flashing a
mouthful of braces. "It seems not very likely." Durazo was born
in Hermosillo, Sonora, the younger of Isidro and Ester's two
sons. In his junior and senior years Durazo attended Amphitheater
High in Tucson, a school with a tradition of enrolling
baseball-playing Mexican nationals and churning out prospects.
Durazo was a solid hitter at Amphitheater High but went untouched
in the June 1993 draft a month after he graduated. He spent the
next two seasons at Pima Community College in Tucson, where he
hit .434 but was again ignored in the draft. Figuring this was
the beginning of the end, he went home to work on his father's
cattle ranch.

"Baseball was my past," Durazo says. "I was thinking about what I
would do next. Get an education, I thought." But then Durazo
unexpectedly received a call from the Monterrey Sultans of the
Mexican League, who had seen his college numbers. For Monterrey
he batted .282 in 110 games, with eight home runs and 61 RBIs,
and was named the league's '97 Rookie of the Year. The following
season he hit .350 with 19 homers. Derek Bryant, his manager with
Monterrey and now the skipper of High Desert, one of Arizona's
Class A clubs, told the Diamondbacks that Durazo was worth a
look.

Neither Showalter nor general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. had heard
of Erubiel Durazo, but, as Showalter puts it, "Three-fifty
doesn't lie." This year, in 94 games with El Paso and Triple A
Tucson, Durazo hit .404. With the Diamondbacks' incumbent first
baseman, Travis Lee, in the midst of what would be a hellish
0-for-30 slump, Durazo got his shot. "I didn't believe it," he
says of having gotten the call to Arizona. "I phoned my parents
and they laughed; they thought I was telling a lie. It wasn't
supposed to happen so fast. What can I say?"

Not much. Durazo is awkwardly shy and tiptoes quietly through a
clubhouse dominated by veterans. Opposing pitchers figure that,
as is the case with most young hitters, once Durazo starts
seeing fewer fastballs, he'll be back on the ranch. Maybe, maybe
not. Last Saturday, Phillies righthander Curt Schilling threw
Durazo a first-inning slider that Durazo smoked to center for a
single. In the fourth Schilling delivered a nasty,
below-the-knees split-fingered fastball, and Durazo sent it 446
feet for his first big league homer. It was neither lucky nor
completely unexpected.

--J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)