Chosen Field Hill School Grad Hamburg Embarks On Baseball Career

Posted: March 10, 1990

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Charles D. "Fritz" Hamburg, graduate of The Hill School, native son of Abington, began his professional career yesterday, when he worked out on the first day of the Phillies' minor-league spring-training camp. Tomorrow, he turns 24.

The launching of Hamburg's baseball career is "a big event, an exciting event, for all of us," said James Finn, who teaches the classics and coaches baseball at Hill, an elite all-boys, coat-and-tie boarding school in

Pottstown.

The Hill School, founded in 1851, has graduated a secretary of state (James Baker), a novelist (Tobias Wolff) and a cartographer (Andrew McNally of Rand- McNally). Thousands of lawyers and doctors and businessmen in the making have meandered through its leafy campus. But young Fritz, a catcher and an Ithaca College physical-education major, is the school's first alumnus to venture into the topsy-turvy world of professional baseball.

"He always said that that was his ambition," said Finn, who is believed to be the lone high school baseball coach in the Delaware Valley with a doctorate in Greek literature from Duke. Now Hamburg can test that ambition with the team he grew up rooting for. Yesterday, he put on a Phillies' uniform for the first time.

On Thursday, Hamburg checked into the Howard Johnson's off U.S. Route 19 in Clearwater, just behind Carpenter Field, where he's training. He takes breakfast and dinner, as do all the other minor-leaguers, at the Piccadilly Cafeteria on Drew Street.

All 85 of the minor-league pitchers and catchers - including Sheebie McDonald of Porter, Texas, and Dickie Noles of Aston, Pa., and Porfirio Pena of Bani, the Dominican Republic - had their first workout yesterday. Marvin Freeman, the once and perhaps still-promising righthanded pitcher, was among them.

"This is a new decade," said Freeman, 26. "I've got a new, positive attitude."

Yesterday was a great day of baseball here, in its own way. With the major- league spring-training camps shut down because of a labor dispute, yesterday's workout represented the first time people here were able to see ballplayers in uniforms, taking swings, throwing pitches, stretching.

Hugh Alexander, the longtime baseball scout, and Paul Owens, the Phillies' former general manager, sat in the bleachers and told baseball stories from simpler, easier days. Bill Giles, the president of the Phillies, was around, and so were Lee Thomas, the general manager, and an out-of-uniform Nick Leyva, the field manager.

All around them were the sounds of baseball, filtered through the warm air: the scraping of cleats on cement sidewalks; the spitting of tobacco juice; the pop of a fastball hitting a catcher's stiff mitt. A coach, Jim Fregosi, yelled, "C'mon, you Marchies, run!"

The 84 minor-league infielders and outfielders will start their running on Tuesday. Ron Jones, the fastball-killing outfielder coming off a severe knee injury, is expected at that workout.

Fritz Hamburg wishes he could hit like Jones. But the Phillies signed him - with a $1,000 bonus - for his defensive skills, impressed by how he handles

himself, and his pitchers, behind the plate.

Catching is in the Hamburg blood. His father, also named Charles D., was a catcher at Hatboro-Horsham High in the mid-1950s. Now he is a certified public accountant and keeper of Junior's statistics. Fritz's mother, Ruth, who goes by "Bambi" and who is in charge of, she says, "laundry and moral support," is athletic, too: She played field hockey at Hatboro-Horsham. Hamburg lives with his parents and Kyle, his 17-year-old brother, in Buckingham, three miles east of Doylestown.

Hamburg's first goal is to make a team, any of the seven teams in the Phillies' farm system. He has been assigned, for now, to Batavia, a single-A team in the New York-Penn League, which begins its season in June. But that assignment could change. If Hamburg is dismal in the next four weeks, he might be released outright when the minor-league spring-training camp breaks. Most years, 20 or so players don't make it past March. If he is strong in spring training, Hamburg could be assigned to Spartanburg, S.C., the Phillies' single-A team in the South Atlantic League, a more demanding league, which begins its games in April. If Hamburg makes any team, he will start at the bottom of the bush-league pay scale: $800 a month.

"I could care less about the money," Hamburg said yesterday in an interview in which he used the words comprise, entirely and reflect. "I'd play for free."

Hamburg, clean-cut and rosy-cheeked, stands an inch or so under six feet and weighs 192 pounds, 30 pounds more than he weighed two years ago. To put on the weight, he lifted weights and ate lots of fish and meat. "Two years ago," Hamburg said, "I was entirely too light for a major-league catcher." Now, he says, he's just right.

Hamburg got his baseball break last summer after a tournament in Bridgeton, N.J. Hamburg managed only two hits in nine at-bats, but he made good contact on his outs, didn't strike out, walked six times and kept his pitchers comfortable and his baserunners nervous.

He doesn't have to adjust to being away from home or having a roommate - prep school and college took care of that - but he will have to adjust to hitting with a wooden bat and hitting curves that start at his head and finish over the plate and at the knees.

"To tell you the truth, I'm not that nervous," he said. "I'm anxious, but I can't beat myself by getting all worked up." Hamburg said he was eager to catch mature pitchers with a variety of pitches. "They can be easier to catch than some young guy who just gasses it up," he said.

Hamburg was the one doing the gassing up as a schoolboy slugger. When he was in the sixth form - Hill's equivalent of the senior year - he hit .406 and his team went 11-2-1. Coach Finn remembers the season fondly. "He swung a quick bat," Finn said.

Finn and Hamburg talked on the telephone the other day, about, among other things, how many years Hamburg should dedicate to becoming a big-leaguer.

The answer did not take numerical form. "As long as he is making progress, he shouldn't quit," Finn said. "When you start seeing people pass you by, then you quit. I think he can make it."

Where Finn lives and works, a blazer is part of the uniform and baseball part of a classical education. In Clearwater, Hamburg has entered a different world.

Hamburg was asked if he even brought a blazer to his first professional camp.

"No," he said. For just a moment, he became earnest and worried, and he asked, "Were we supposed to?"

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