Engage in conversation with GreenJackets outfielder Jose Nicolas, and you easily forget just how young he is.
Beyond the face, the build and the demeanor, which lead one to figure him for a seasoned big-league vet, the Pirates' second-round draft choice in June is just 19 years old. And he's the first to admit he has a lot of growing to do.
"I've got a lot to learn about this game," said the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder who signed out of Westminster Christian High School in Miami -- the school that produced Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez. "So many adjustments to make, so many aspects of my game I need to work on."
After a miserable April when he had just 14 hits in 79 at-bats (.177) with 27 strikeouts and six errors -- the most by any outfielder in the South Atlantic League outfielder with at least 20 starts -- Nicolas seems a bit more comfortable, and he feels he has made progress the past two weeks.
Nicolas has been errorless in his past 11 games (April 29-May 14), while raising his season average to .196 through Friday with seven hits in 28 at-bats in May.
On Tuesday, he ended a personal 28-game and team 17-game homerless streak with a solo blast against the Macon Braves. He also had the game-winning single in the Jackets miraculous 9-8 come-from-behind win over the Charleston RiverDogs last week at Lake Olmstead Stadium.
"Jose is going to make mistakes because he is so young, but he's a very intelligent young man and understands what he needs to work on," Jackets manager Marty Brown said. "He's very mature for his age, and that's only going to help him."
BUZZ BIN: The Jackets built their lead in the SAL Southern Division to four games over Macon and Columbus through Friday, despite a 7-7 record in May and a .228 average, the second worst team mark in the league this month. ... After leading all minor leaguers in stolen bases for most of the season, shortstop Victor Gutierrez has swiped just one bag in his past 13 games. Gutierrez has 20 steals, sixth overall in the minors and tied for the SAL lead with Savannah's Anthony Fisher. ... With four hits in his past 33 at-bats through Friday, second baseman Terrance Freeman's average has dipped 60 points in 12 days to .257. But Freeman has managed eight stolen bases in nine attempts during that stretch to move into a tie for third in the league with 19. His .162 average in May is fifth-worst in the league. ... Catcher Lee Evans was batting a league-low .111 in May through Friday. ... Third baseman Xavier Burns is batting .326 in his past 13 games to raise his average 81 points over the past two weeks to .213.
JACKETS ALUMNI: At high-Class A Lynchburg, left-hander Paul Ah Yat pitched a complete-game seven hitter with no earned runs and no walks with five strikeouts in an 8-1 win at Danville (Braves) on May 8. The Hawaiian, who was 10-2 with 157 strikeouts between the Jackets and Lynchburg last season, then beat Wilmington five days later to improve his record to 3-1 and lower his ERA to 2.34. ... Also at Lynchburg, third baseman Chris Miyake batted .514 in nine games from May 3 to May 13 to lift his average to .337, fifth best in the Carolina League. Miyake batted .250 for the Jackets in '96 and split time last year between Class AA Carolina and Lynchburg. ... Freddy May (Jackets '96-'97) leads Lynchburg and the Pirates organization with a .360 average. ... Teammate Morgan Walker (Jackets '96-'97) is second in the organization with a .353 average, but has just two home runs in his first 27 games. ... Outfielder T.J. Staton, a Jacket in '94 and '95, is batting .323 with four home runs and 29 RBI at Class AA Carolina.
AROUND THE SAL: With Vasectomy Night last season, the Charleston RiverDogs and owner Mike Veeck are credited for concocting one of the wildest minor-league ballpark promotions of all time. This year, another SAL team is credited with the most controversial.
The Hagerstown (Md.) Suns, the Blue Jays' SAL affiliate, aren't the first to hold a church bulletin day promotion. Minor league clubs have been doing it for years -- offering a discount ticket for anyone who brings a church bulletin to the ballpark.
Well, a Waynesboro, Pa., man, who didn't have a bulletin asked for the discount at a Suns game on April 12 anyway. He didn't get it and filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations a week later, claiming it was a violation of his civil rights.
The case is under review and the team faces a possible fine and could mean the end for such church-related promotions at ballparks nationwide.