51s’ Campbell sets sights on milestone

New Zealand isn’t exactly known for its baseball.

In fact, not a single Kiwi has made it to the major leagues. But Scott Campbell is on track to be the first, a milestone that the 51s third baseman is striving to achieve.

“There’s a certain amount of pressure on me being so close,” Campbell said Wednesday at Cashman Field as Las Vegas beat the Fresno Grizzlies 6-4 in front of 2,012. “I’ve always taken it as a badge of honor. I realize that a lot of people back home are watching me, so I never lose sight of the fact I’m an ambassador for the game.”

Campbell is 24, a relatively advanced age given that he is only in his fourth professional season and still is learning the game. But, on the plus side, he hasn’t had an opportunity to pick up a lot of bad habits on the field and has a compact swing that allows him to make good contact.

Also, Campbell is switching from second base to third base, a far easier transition than going from third to second.

“He’s got a very high ceiling,” 51s hitting coach Ken Joyce said of Campbell, a 10th-round pick by Toronto in the June 2006 draft out of Gonzaga. “For the short time he’s been playing, he has good plate discipline.”

Joyce, who was with Campbell last year with Double-A New Hampshire, said Campbell is a quick learner, which helps make up for his lack of baseball experience.

“He’s getting so much information so quickly, and he’s doing a great job of processing that information in a positive way,” Joyce said. “He had a good spring in the big league camp, and he’s got the ability to play at the big league level.”

Campbell is trying to overcome a slow start at the plate as he adjusts to Triple-A pitching. He’s hitting .196 after going 1-for-4 Wednesday.

“To be honest, this is the first slump I’ve had,” said Campbell, whose sixth-inning RBI single tied the game 3-3. “It’s a little frustrating, but I’m just going to keep working hard and get out of it.”

Campbell began playing when he was 9 after his mom saw a newspaper ad in their hometown of Auckland seeking youth baseball players. He said he tried baseball because he wasn’t content playing soccer, rugby or anything else.

By 14, Campbell was playing for New Zealand’s national baseball team, sharing the field with players more than twice his age.

Now, he is the player the 700-plus kids who play the sport back home keep track of. The closest any New Zealander has come to the majors was Travis Wilson, an infielder who nearly got called up by the Atlanta Braves in 2003.

“It would be a great boost for the sport back home,” Campbell said of reaching the big leagues. “Baseball is a minor sport (in New Zealand). It needs all the exposure it can get.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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