Rod Metzler is so reliable, it’s impossible to guess where he’ll be.
Since sitting out the first two games of the Spokane Indians’ season, Metzler has missed just three more. It’s almost automatic to expect the Purdue University graduate to be in the lineup.
Where he’ll be, however, is another matter. Including designated hitter, Metzler has played six different positions for Spokane, which returns to town tonight for the first of five games against Southern Oregon.
Listed on the Indians roster as a second baseman, Metzler has also played third base and all three outfield positions. At Purdue, he also tried his hand at shortstop.
“I went to Purdue as an outfielder,” said Metzler, who grew up in Albuquerque, N.M. “They wanted me to know another position, so they showed me second base.”
Purdue also helped Metzler, a natural right-handed hitter, become a switch hitter. Metzler and shortstop Merrell Ligons are the Indians’ only switch hitters.
Spokane hitting coach Greg Smith said Metzler puts extra time into the swing that doesn’t come naturally.
“He’s been OK from both sides,” Smith said. “You’re going to see more righties (on the mound), so he’s been working hard from the left.”
Smith also noted that Metzler, not known for taking a power swing, can therefore adjust easier from the aluminum bats used in high school and college to the wooden bats used by professionals.
Metzler hit just 22 homers in four years with the Boilermakers, but his first with Spokane came during the opening-season set against Salem-Keizer. He also homered against Everett two weeks ago.
Metzler, a 21st-round selection in last month’s amateur draft, was a bit of an unknown quantity for Indians manager Jeff Garber.
“In some respects, he’s a sleeper,” Garber said.
“We heard he was going to be a scrappy-type guy, but we didn’t know what he could do. … He sets the tone by his actions on the field, and that’s exciting for a manager.”
Among his other good qualities, Metzler is well-spoken and unfailingly polite. Following the lead of his father, Russell, who was in the Air Force, Metzler majored in aviation administration technology.
The Air Force life moved the Metzlers from South Carolina to Texas to New Mexico. Metzler spent nine years in Albuquerque, where he developed his love for baseball despite success at defensive back in football.
The decision to attend Purdue was mostly a money matter, Metzler said. The Indiana school offered the best deal.
Metzler finished as Purdue’s all-time leader in at-bats and among the top five in games played, hits, doubles, triples and runs scored.
No major league team drafted Metzler as a junior, because, he’d heard, his arm strength needed work. After hitting .308 this year and fielding a career-best .958, the Kansas City Royals came calling.
What Metzler expected to happen, and what actually happened, were miles apart.
“My idea of professional ball in college was that you’d go to California or Florida,” he said.
Instead, his first trip to the Northwest brought him to a team that’s in the thick of a pennant race as the halfway point of the Northwest League season nears.
“Being this is my first year, I’m coming to expect this,” Metzler said of Spokane’s success. “But I know (pro ball) won’t be like this every year.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
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