Switch pays off for Cubs' Chirinos

Move from middle infield to catcher results in All-Star berth

(Scott Jontes/MiLB.com)

By David Dorsey / Special to MLB.com | June 20, 2009 4:48 PM ET

FORT MYERS, Florida -- Converted Daytona Cubs catcher Robinson Chirinos fell into a zone unlike any other on May 31 when hit hit two grand slams in the same game. The following day, he hit two more homers.

"That day, it was amazing," said Chirinos, whose .328 batting average and 10 homers are tops among Florida State League All-Stars. His 32 RBIs ranked second behind Fort Myers Miracle first baseman Chris Parmelee, Clearwater Threshers catcher Tim Kennelly and Charlotte Stone Crabs infielder Matt Dominguez, all of whom had 33 at the break.

"Everything was just special," said Chirinos, a native of Punto Fijo, Venezuela, who signed with the Cubs as a 17-year-old. "My teammates did a good job to get on base.

"The second grand slam, that was fun. It was a 3-1 count. I got to a 3-2 count. It was very nice. I wasn't trying to get a home run, I was just trying to hit the ball hard, and it went out."

At 25, Chirinos is on the old end of the Florida State League. But last summer, former Daytona manager Jody Davis, who played for eight seasons with the big league Cubs in the 1980s, helped convert Chirinos from middle infielder to catcher.

"At that point, he was hitting .250 or .260," said Davis, the Cubs Minor League catching coordinator who returned to manage the North team after winning last season's FSL title. "To be a Major League infielder, we needed a little bit more offense out of him."

Daytona certainly has that now. And in Chirinos, the Cubs have a catcher who also can play every infield position.

"It was not that hard," Chirinos said of the switch. "When I get behind the plate, I just tell myself to be the best. I'm still learning every day."

Chirinos said he did not mind the move, adding, "They said I would have a better chance to play in the big leagues."

Chirinos strikes Davis as the type of player who can play multiple positions in the big leagues.

"He's really just a good ballplayer," Davis said. "He made a commitment. It looks natural now for him playing catcher for such a short amount of time. He has always called a good game, from the first couple of times he got back there. That's half the battle.

"He can play anywhere in the infield and you would never think that he was out of position."

SAGE ADVICE: Roland Hemond, who began his scouting career on July 3, 1951 for the Hartford Chiefs, addressed the All-Stars twice, once during the Fan Fest on Friday night and again before Saturday's game.

The 79-year-old worked with Bill Veeck while with the Chicago White Sox. Veeck's son, Mike, co-owns the Fort Myers Miracle, who hosted the All-Star Game.

"He was such a visionary for baseball," Hemond said. "Those [years] were some of the highlights of my career. You could be serious about your work, but don't take yourself so seriously."

Hemond works for the Arizona Diamondbacks as a senior advisor. He has won World Series rings with the 1957 Milwaukee Braves, the 2001 Diamondbacks and the 2005 White Sox.

Hemond gave some advice to this year's All-Stars: "Always remember your scout. Anytime you get a chance, if you're being interviewed, mention their name. You're paying respect to the scout who signed you."

Hemond said he hopes to write a book about his experiences. One story involves Hall of Fame slugger Hank Aaron.

"One of the first scouting reports I typed was on Hank Aaron," Hemond recalled. "I still call him Henry, Henry Louis Aaron. I saw him with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League."

Minor League games, he said, still draw his attention.

"I love going to Minor League baseball games," he said. "That's where you might find the best player who ever lived. Nobody else might think so. Then the next thing you know, he's playing for the Diamondbacks."

ALLISON'S ASCENT: The Florida Marlins selected Jeff Allison with the 16th overall pick in the 2003 Draft out of Peabody (Mass.) Veterans Memorial High School.

Several years of grave mistakes and drug abuse followed, but the Jupiter Hammerheads right-hander said he has emerged a better man for it.

Allison entered the All-Star break with a 3-6 record, a 3.36 ERA, 37 strikeouts and 15 walks in 64 1/3 innings.

"It's definitely not something I would want to glamorize," he said of his past problems.

Allison meets with the Hammerheads' younger players every season and tells them his cautionary tale. At 24, he said he has been sober for two years and five months. He once spent a chunk of his $1.85 million signing bonus on a Cadillac Escalade. Now he doesn't even own a car.

"I have what I need down here," Allison said. "I'd much rather be where I am now without a car than be with a car and get into a position I don't want to be in."

Allison said his mistakes cost him.

"I've seen a side of life that most of these guys never see," he continued. "This is not the way to go."

Still, Allison said he remains hopeful for a happy ending.

"I hope it ends up being that way. I feel like there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm definitely going to work as hard as I possibly can. Right now, it's all about staying healthy."

David Dorsey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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