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Gonzalez's streak brings back memories to Suns' Landreaux

May 20, 1999|By BOB PARASILITI

Ken Landreaux is perfectly happy standing still in the first base coach's box at Municipal Stadium as hitting coach for the Hagerstown Suns.

Landreaux never moved an inch but has taken a journey in the last week - a fond trip down Memory Lane, with a little help from the exploits of Luis Gonzalez of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Landreaux watched with some interest - and some reminisce - as Gonzalez built a hitting streak of 30 straight games only to have it end on Wednesday. If Gonzalez had collected a hit in Arizona's 7-2 loss to Los Angeles, he would have tied Landreaux's string of 31 games which he achived in 1980.

"I was watching a game the other night and saw that he was up to 26 or 27 games," Landreaux said. "It brought back a lot of great memories. Then, just tonight, I started wondering if he had extended it. I commend him for doing it because once you get to about 30 games, there is all that media and pressure to put up with."

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Gonzalez became the fourth player in the last three years to carry a 30-game hit streak. He matched the runs of Baltimore's Eric Davis, Boston's Nomar Garciaparra and Cleveland's Sandy Alomar Jr. who all did it in 1997.

That foursome owns the longest hitting streak in the majors in this decade. Landreaux's streak of 31 games in 1980 is second longest of that decade to Paul Molitor's 39-game streak of 1987.

"It brought back so many memories," said the Suns first-year coach. "I knew that I was in such a groove. It was fun to be a the park and I was coming everyday ready to hit."

Gonzalez started his run modestly with one hit on April 11 at Atlanta and rode the streak to go 46-for-115 (.400) over the five-week span.

Landreaux completed his string as a member of the Minnesota Twins, hitting .392 during the streak and .281 for the season. It's the longest streak in the American League since Dom DiMaggio hit in 34 straight games in 1949.

Landreaux started his career with California in 1977 before being traded to the Twins in 1979 in a package for Rod Carew. He closed his 11-year major league career with a seven-year stint with Los Angeles.

While the streak was fun for Landreaux, it also put him in the middle of a brave new world.

"For me, the streak came at a time when I was young and didn't know how to handle it," Landreaux said. "When I made it to 25 games, ESPN started cutting away from games and looking in at all my at-bats. I was reading stuff in the papers on how pitchers were coming out and saying how they were going to be the one to stop me."

Landreaux admits the circus surrounding the streak may have gotten to him a little. He said he stopped granting interviews trying to get a break from the glare of the spotlight.

"I just wanted to play," he said. "I didn't want to talk about it."

Landreaux's streak was ended in a game against the Baltimore Orioles. It didn't strike him as a tragedy.

"I didn't realize what had happened," Landreaux said. "I just said 'Oh, well' and just wanted to come out the next day and stayed focus."

He followed the 31-game streak with another one of 19 straight, one he admits didn't catch the media eye like the first. But it was all during an incredible time in his life when it came to hitting a baseball.

"I saw the ball so well," he said. "I was seeing everything ... fastballs, curves, everything. I was picking the ball right out of the pitcher's hand and seeing every rotation of the ball so early. I was enjoying coming to the ball park."

It was one of those zones that athletes are lucky to experience in their career. It's called in the zone, when basketball players can't miss a jump shot, golfers hit every putt and baseball players hit at phenomenal pace, but have trouble putting the feeling in words.

"The ball would come up in slow motion, like in frames from a camera," Landreaux said. "And every time I swung the bat, the ball hit the sweet spot on the bat head."

It all left a feeling that was hard to forget.

"I kept saying to myself, 'God, if I could keep this going, there is no telling what I can do," Landreaux said. "This is probably how Ted Williams saw the ball when he hit .400 that year."

And maybe how Luis Gonzalez felt until Wednesday.

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