0

Gorecki makes right call

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Who you know can be important for a baseball player looking for a second chance. Just ask Reid Gorecki.

Released by St. Louis at the end of spring training last year, the outfielder gave his first manager a call.

Tommy Shields is now minor league field coordinator for Atlanta and Gorecki had left a favorable impression. The Braves didn't have an opening right away, but by May they did.

Instead of pitching online food ordering, Gorecki was hitting pitches again. The real world could wait. He was chasing his dream again.

"This is what I want to do, play baseball," Gorecki said.

At 28, Gorecki knows that time is not on his side.

"I'm just trying to survive," he said. "I can't take anything for granted."

Gorecki, however, should be one of the Gwinnett Braves' outfielders when they open their first season on April 9 at Charlotte, maybe even the starting center fielder.

That was expected to be Jordan Schafer, one of Atlanta's top prospects. But Schafer is on the verge of winning a major league job with the Braves at 22. Six years older, Gorecki is just hoping for regular job in Class AAA.

A former college standout at Delaware, Gorecki was a victim of the numbers game with the Cardinals last spring. One of those numbers was his age.

"They had a lot of young players who they had big investments in," Gorecki said. "I was the odd man out."

Atlanta, though, had a need, in part because Schafer was serving a 50-game suspension for violating the minor league policy on performance enhancing drugs. With Class AA Mississippi struggling and short an outfielder, Gorecki got a job.

"Calling Tommy Shields was my last resort," said the New York City native. "I'm glad it worked out. I definitely didn't want to give up playing if I could avoid it. It beats working 9 to 5."

Gorecki showed he belonged back on the field, winning Southern League player of the week soon after joining Mississippi.

Despite missing time with a hamstring strain, Gorecki batted .292 with the M-Braves in 63 games. He hit 10 homers, drove in 43 runs and stole 16 bases in 20 attempts.

Gorecki also got into four games with Class AAA Richmond, going 7-for-13. All and all, it was a good season for someone who couldn't make it out of spring training with St. Louis.

Now, Gorecki needs a good season with Gwinnett to keep his career going. G-Braves manager Dave Brundage certainly things he is capable of it.

"He's a good hitter with some power and speed, and he's a good outfielder," Brundage said. "He can play. He showed that last year."

Gorecki, who played winter ball in the Mexican Pacific League, has gotten into a few major league exhibition games and one was certainly memorable. He hit a homer in Atlanta's 11-2 victory over Panama on March 3.

That doesn't count in the Grapefruit League stats, but Gorecki is 5-for-10 in those games with Atlanta. Maybe the Cardinals didn't know what they had. Or maybe Gorecki is just a late bloomer.

Although he was St. Louis' minor league player of the year in 2004, Gorecki batted .261 for his six seasons in the Cardinals organization.

A 13th-round draft choice, luck hadn't been with Gorecki. Then he made a call to Shields, his first manager with New Jersey of the Class A New York-Penn League in 2002.

The Braves might be a fit.

"I'm just trying to find a home," Gorecki said.

Told that it is only about 35 miles from Gwinnett's new ballpark to Turner Field in Atlanta, Gorecki said, "Too close for comfort."

Spoken like a minor leaguer who still has a major league dream.

SideBar: THE GORECKI FILE

Name: Reid Gorecki

Position: OF

Age: 28

College: Delaware

Height: 6-1

Weight: 180

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

Birthplace: Queens, N.Y.

Home: East Rockaway, N.Y.

Worth noting: Hit .304 in 2008 with 10 homers, 43 RBIs and 16 steals in 67 games, mostly for AA Mississippi. ... Drafted by St. Louis after playing in the NCAA Tournament. ... Spent six seasons in the Cardinals organization before being released. ... Signed by Atlanta early last season.