Cougars' Horne swinging with new perspective.(Sports)
Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
June 24, 1997 | Bush, JoeByline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
It's hard to imagine Kane County designated hitter Tyrone Horne with an expression other than a hitter's focus or a kidder's grin.
If you see either, you know he's happy.
Horne showed neither last summer when the Oakland A's released him after 67 at-bats at Triple A Edmonton. The Montreal Expos' 44th round pick in 1989 was one level from the major leagues after batting .284 in six minor-league seasons.
Horne is eating a wedge of green melon when asked if the release was a shock.
"Oh my God," Horne said. "If you put this little piece of melon down here and just smash it, that was my ego. I was just crushed."
Lately, the 26-year-old has been doing the crushing. His 22-game hitting streak - which raised his average from .258 to .301 - came to an end Sunday, and his 13 home runs put him among the Midwest League leaders.
The release set Horne free in more than one way. Along with the birth of his daughter - three-month-old Aliyah - the reality check changed his perspective.
"It brought me down to earth," the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder said. "It made me work even harder than I ever did in my life. I worked my tail off every single day.
"I lost 10 pounds - lifting weights, conditioning, hitting. I got in the best shape I'd ever been in. That's why I think I'm doing what I'm doing now."
Before his physical improvement could take over, Horne had to square himself mentally. He got off to a slow start as he internalized the self-pity that comes from having to play Class A ball for the first time in five years.
"I was depressed about it, but I didn't let anybody know, but in the meantime my performance was kinda suspect," he said. "I had a long talk with myself - 'Hey, Tyrone, go out here and do what you gotta do, and let things fall in place.' "
He became more aggressive at the plate, and now the left-handed hitting Horne leads the Cougars with 45 RBI (through Sunday).
"This is the way he's supposed to swing the bat," Cougars manager Lynn Jones said. "He's been driving in runs and hitting the ball with more authority, and this is what we expected out of him."
Jones is the only one of the Cougars players or staff who can relate to Horne's travails, but it took Jones just five years to make his major-league debut with Cincinnati in 1979.
He knows it can't be easy for Horne to start over, but he also knows Horne's lucky to have a job.
"You've got a uniform on, and you're getting paid to do it," Jones said. "You gotta still go out and play the game, and you never know what's gonna happen after that. There's no guarantees in this game, but there's a lot of people in the stands all the time."
Jones isn't referring to fans. Players work hard to impress not only their parent club's scouts, but other teams'. Horne knows this - Florida's is his fourth organization since 1995.
"I took things for granted last year in Triple A, and I got bit in the butt," Horne said. "Here, I'm giving 110 percent every day. I'm busting my tail down the (first-base) line.
"I'm doing everything that I gotta do because you never know. There are two more teams coming out."
Arizona and Tampa Bay join the major-league ranks next season, and have had minor-league systems in place for two years.
"Talent is thin," Jones said. "It doesn't matter where you're at. If you love to play the game, then you go out and play as hard as you can as long as you can and let the chips fall where they may. You never know who's watching."
So Horne is playing like his daughter's watching. Aliyah, who lives with her mother in Idaho Falls, Idaho, is another reason Horne is redoubling his efforts.
"I saw her over the (Midwest League) all-star break, and it made my day," Horne said. "She's my world, man, my life."
She might be the key if Horne's long-shot quest results in the quality of life the majors can bring. He's carrying another person up the ladder this time.
"Before I had my little girl, I didn't care about nothing," Horne said. "Now, since I got responsibility over my daughter, hey, I'm taking things serious."
Not too seriously, though. You can count on Horne cracking up teammates and finding the fun in nearly every situation.
He says this time through the Midwest League - he was the MWL All-Star Game MVP for Rockford in 1992 - he'll try to enjoy the ride.
"When I was at (his teammates') age, I was taking things too seriously," Horne said. "I'd go 0-for-4, then I'm tormenting myself for two days. Now if I go 0-for-4, I'm gonna go 0-for-4 having fun.
"I'm gonna have as much fun as I can because one day, everything's gonna be gone. I don't wanna feel like I cheated myself."
He and 29-year-old infielder Joe Aversa impart that kind of wisdom to the younger Cougars, and that's no coincidence, according to Jones.
"(Horne's) good for these guys," Jones said. "We weren't gonna bring a bad guy in here. We've got a bunch of young kids here and guys that need people to help show them the way. (Horne and Aversa) offer some good advice to these guys, when asked."
Horne is convinced that it was Edmonton's tinkering with his swing that had him hitting .230 last summer. In his five separate stints in Double A ball, Horne batted .359 (128 at-bats), .286 (311 at-bats), .296 (294 at-bats), .283 (166 at-bats) and .272 (43 at-bats).
"My swing wasn't broke, but they tried to fix it," Horne said. "Then my confidence went down, and I was gone."
At that point, Jones said, an aging player can do one of two things, and one of them is to give up.
"Some people don't take the message that well, or constructively, Jones said. "There's a lot of blame in other places other than looking in the mirror."
Horne chose the other option.
"Getting released made me a better ballplayer," Horne said. "Everything I did from '89 to '96 is in the past. It's a new beginning for me here.
"I love the game. I still have the skills to get to the big leagues. Say my skills were going down - hey, it's time to do something else. Until my skills tell me that, I'm gonna continue playing baseball."
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