Mid-season call-up quickly becomes a fan favorite

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Bo Hart is this year's Jason Simontacchi, this year's Stubby Clapp, this year's Super Joe McEwing.

The 26-year-old rookie second baseman, a lowly 33rd-round draft pick in 1999, is the latest in a series of out-of-nowhere rookie phenoms for the Cardinals.

"I'm enjoying every minute of it," Hart said. "Even if I only get one hit."

That was the case in Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals, Game 4 of his scintillating major league debut. The first three games he was 7-for-12 with three RBIs and three runs scored.

He quickly captivated the crowd, drawing a standing ovation before -- and after -- his final at-bat on Saturday night. The last ovation came after he struck out.

"It's been great, like a dream come true," pitcher Woody Williams said. "He strikes out and gets a standing ovation; he's doing something right."

Hart said he's never been the object of that sort of adulation. Then again, Cardinals fans embrace overacheiving rookies such as Simontacchi, an 11-game winner at age 28 last year, and the always hustling Clapp and McEwing in recent seasons.

"That was unbelievable," Hart said. "I really didn't know what to do when I went to the plate.

"I just kind of stood there and enjoyed it for a second and then I was ready to hit."

Hart got the promotion basically due to attrition. He was off the radar screen on the team's prospect list, then Fernando Vina was lost with a torn hamstring, and backup second baseman Miguel Cairo broke his left hand when hit by a pitch on Wednesday.

Neither are expected back for about another month, which could mean an extended audition for Hart.

"It's in the back of your head that maybe it'll be my turn," Hart said. "It's my turn now."

Hart was batting .298 at Triple-A Memphis when Cairo went down, a big improvement over a pedestrian .249 last year at Double-A New Haven. Since he arrived in the major leagues, he's been one very tough out.

He quickly made an impression on Tony La Russa. The manager had him batting eighth on Friday to avoid pressure, but after his second straight two-hit day he was in the leadoff slot the rest of the weekend.

"He took his whacks and put the barrel on the ball quite a few times," La Russa said. "It didn't look like he was really intimidated by having to hit in the leadoff spot.

"I don't know how often I'll do it, but it sets up our lineup a lot better when he hits up there as opposed to somebody else."

Those are golden words to Hart, who said it's as if he's walking on cloud nine.

"I'll be there for a while, no matter if I go 0-for-5 or 5-for-5," he said. "It's been great."

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