There might not be anything more enjoyable than playing baseball, if you were to ask Darrell Rasner.
Very understandable, considering the Carson High School graduate received an $800,000 bonus when he signed with the Montreal Expos as a second-round draft pick out of the University of Nevada last year. Rasner didn't speak about money on Saturday during a pitching clinic for Little League and Babe Ruth age players presented by the Ray Austin Memorial Baseball Academy, also known as RAMB.
"I really enjoy this," said Rasner, who volunteered his time for the clinic. "It's a lot of fun to help the little guys. I remember (Carson coach Ron) McNutt had Carson Capitols camps we'd go to and the older guys would help us, and our eyes would get big that these guys would be giving us the time of day. So, If I can help someone with this ... I'm just glad to be able to give some of that back now."
The right-hander passed up his senior year at Nevada -- where he set career records for wins (28), strikeouts (302) and innings pitched (341) -- and was taken as the 46th pick overall by the Expos last June. Rasner was assigned to the Vermont Expos of the Class A New York-Penn League, where he compiled a 2-3 record and 4.81 earned run average to go with 40 strikeouts and 16 walks in 33.2 innings of work.
The statistics were really unimportant, though. The short season was more or less an introduction into the world of professional baseball.
"It's kind of getting your feet wet," he said. "You learn about the bus trips -- we made one 16-hour trip from Vermont to Ohio, I think it was -- and playing every night. It's a lot different from college and playing three or four times a week, that's for sure.
"I'm still pinching kind of myself every day that I get to do this for a living. It's kind of unreal. I mean, I get to play a game for a living. It's still unreal to me."
Rasner is scheduled to report for the start of spring training on March 2. What happens after that is anyone's guess.
"It all depends on how you do in spring training," said Rasner, who has bulked up his 6-foot-4 frame to right around 225 pounds. "I'm in pretty good shape now. I worked out with the strength coach up at UNR, Shaun Huls, and he helped out just a ton this year. I can't say enough about the guy. I've been bullpenning a lot, so I just need to sharpen a few things and I'll be ready.
"I'm setting my goals high, I'd like to start at high A in Brevard County (Florida) and I'd like to go to double-A in Harrisburg, Pa., maybe by the All-Star break or by the end of the season. We'll see what happens."
The Montreal Expos is an organization currently in a wait-and-see mode. Major League Baseball purchased the financially ailing Expos last year and is presently exploring options to relocate the franchise before the 2004 season. Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore., have made presentations. The Expos are also scheduled to play 20 games in Puerto Rico this season -- 10 in April, starting with a three-game series against the New York Mets on April 11-13.
"I guess there's a chance the team could go there (to Puerto Rico), I don't know," Rasner said. "Portland is another possibility, I think they met for talks last week. I'm hoping Portland. That would be awesome."
Ultimately, Rasner doesn't care where he plays. Just so long as it's a baseball field.
"It doesn't matter to me," he said. "I would love to get a chance to play anywhere. I could care less if it were Puerto Rico. I'd just love to have that opportunity."
Rasner went 6-8 and threw 104.2 innings for the Nevada Wolf Pack and then went to Vermont and pitched in eight more games, all starting assignments.
"You are kind of drained -- you're physically tired, mentally tired, all of it -- but it gives you a high every day just being able to play a game for a living," he said. "I mean, that's your job, to go out on the field and play a game you love, so it's not really that tough. I'm just grateful to have the opportunity I've been given so far."
Rasner talked about his philosophy on pitching during a give-and-take session during the clinic.
"What's your go-to pitch?" one coach asked.
"Four seam," Rasner said. "I like to come inside, especially now with the wooden bats."
"They break?" one youngster asked.
"Yeah, that's nice. There's no aluminum bats to worry about now," Rasner said, drawing a laugh from the crowd. "I don't like to nibble around the corners and that. If you're going to get a guy, go after him. Don't try and set him up four or five pitches down the road. Get him out. Save on the pitch count for the later innings."
One of the lessons he learned as a rookie in Vermont was the use of the changeup.
"You don't want to hit a corner with a changeup. That's what I learned this year," Rasner said. "I used to always try and throw it on the outside corner. But now, our coach, and he's a real good coach, he says to 'Throw it up there and make them hit it.' Most of the time the guy is going to be out in front and they're just going to hit a grounder to shortstop. You don't have to throw it outside. Let them hit it and let the pitch do it naturally."