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MAJORS RIGHT TRACK FOR SEXSON

The day he was drafted in June of 1993 was when Richie Sexson made up his mind.

Up until the Cleveland Indians selected him in the 24th round, Sexson had planned on honoring the letter of intent he signed with the University of Portland. He was going to play both basketball and baseball and then decide whether to pursue a career in one of those sports.

"I got drafted in the 24th round and I just decided it was best if I gave that a shot," Sexson said. "I looked really far ahead, looked to the NBA, looked to the major leagues, and then I decided I had a better chance if I took the major-league route."

There's no telling what Sexson, 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, might have accomplished on the basketball court. But his choice is looking the wiser with every passing day. He's going to play in the majors, and probably sooner than anyone thought.

Because if Cleveland can't free up room for him, some club will find a place for a 22-year-old first baseman with eye-opening power, better than adequate defensive skills and, as of late, a flair for the dramatic.

Sexson is one shy of equaling his career high of 22 homers after his two-run shot to left-center in the eighth inning Wednesday afternoon lifted the Buffalo Bisons to a 4-2 victory and a sweep of their three-game series with the New Orleans Zephyrs before 11,734 at North AmeriCare Park. It was the second straight game in which Sexson went deep in the eighth inning to provide the winning run.

The two-out homer made a winner of Darryl Scott (5-6), who had yielded a tying single in the top of the inning after inheriting a runner from starter Steve Kline. Sexson, who was 2 for 4, also doubled in a run. Mike Busch's bomb to center field, his 12th homer, accounted for the Herd's other run.

Sexson, a right-handed hitter, has progressed rapidly through the Indians system since he was selected while a senior at Prairie High in Brush Prairie, Wash. But the going was tough at the start. Sexson debuted by batting just .186 for Burlington, a short-season Class A club, homering once in 97 at-bats.

"I'd never even played under the lights, or used wooden bats or nine-inning games or anything like that," Sexson said. "It was a culture shock too. I'd never been out of the house for more than a week at a time, here I was all the way across the United States in North Carolina."

He has been on a steady climb ever since and came into this season with a career average of .279 with 53 homers and 243 RBIs. He's batting .279 for the Herd, leads the team in homers and is second to Bruce Aven with 61 RBIs. Despite missing a month with a shoulder injury, he has more single-season homers at the NAP (14) than any Bison since the stadium opened in 1988.

More importantly to manager Brian Graham, Sexson is developing an understanding of batting mechanics and situational hitting. Instead of accepting that things are what they are, Sexson has begun to ponder 'why?'

"If you would have asked him three months ago 'What kind of hitter are you. Explain to me your approach to hitting?' He didn't know," Graham said.

"He's starting to understand himself as a hitter. When he's not hitting the ball well, he interprets that as a slump whereas before he interpreted a slump as not getting any hits. And now he can actually break down his hitting: stride, hands, weight shift . . .

"He's come a long way since the beginning of the season. He's come a long way since spring training, probably more than his physical tools, the progress he's made mentally."

His prodigious homers have helped Sexson attract attention. He often hits the ball so hard there's little doubt that his homers are homers from the get-go.

"For as long as his arms are and as tall as he is, he has very good bat speed," Graham said.

Sexson's power surge could be coming at just the right time. Scouts have been flocking to the NAP in recent weeks as the Indians try to deal for a pitcher. Meanwhile, the expansion draft looms in November.

"It's an exciting year, a big year for a lot of people with expansion coming up," Sexson said.

And it could just be that Sexson is in the right place, at the right time.

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