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Late-bloomer Chris Sabo gives Reds refreshing rookie star

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You are not going to believe Chris Sabo, the rookie third baseman of the Cincinnati Reds. Chances are you're going to think he's somebody I made up or swiped from an old Ring Lardner column. Turn back the clock to the 1940s and you've got some of him. The rest you will have to take on faith. Sabo drives an '82 Ford Escort, sports a modified butch haircut, and wears goggles instead of glasses that make him look like a welder. He also can't stand the thought of wearing the jewelry and gold chains popular with so many other ballplayers.

Pete Rose, the Reds' manager, calls him his mechanical man, which is Rose's way of saying that Chris always comes to the ballpark wound up and ready to play.

``Sabo [at 26] is older than most rookies, so basically he's more experienced than most rookies,'' Pete told me. ``He makes a lot of smart adjustments at the plate and he's a gold glover in the field.''

``We took Chris to spring training this year, because like any young player who has been in our organization for a while, we wanted to see more of what he could do,'' Rose continued. ``We didn't plan to keep him, but when Buddy Bell [since traded to Houston] got hurt and we needed a third baseman, he was there. At that time, he was also getting a lot of base hits.''

Eventually Sabo would play so well that he was selected to participate in the All-Star Game at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. No other rookie made either league's roster.

``I'm sure Sabo never expected it,'' Rose explained, ``and he was really embarrassed when the Cincinnati fans kept chanting for [National League manager] Whitey Herzog to put Chris in the game. I mean this kid didn't think he belonged on the same field with guys like Bobby Bonilla and Vance Law. To me, his attitude is refreshing.''

Sabo's father is a plumber for Detroit's water treatment department, his mother a waitress at Carl's Chop House, and Chris attributes his approach to baseball to the American values of hard work and perseverance they preached.

``They taught me that if you're going to do something, it doesn't do nobody any good if you only go half way.'' Chris said.

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