Pitcher Willie Ambos wore a collarless shirt on a San Bernardino Spirit postgame bus trip home last summer. It wasn't a raggedy shirt,
but it went against the club dress code, and Ambos got into trouble with the manager. The next day, he wore a shirt with a collar underneath his uniform. His teammates so enjoyed the gesture that they passed the hat and paid his fine.That playful nature may have contributed to the Seattle Mariners' release of Ambos this spring - he had a 6-1 record and 2.89 earned-run average in the Class A California League.
But it's also one of the things the Salt Lake Trappers like about him.
"Ambos is kinda the guy who keeps everyone loose. I appreciate that," says Trapper pitching coach Mark Brewer.
Brewer and Manager Nick Belmonte named Ambos their starting pitcher for opening night tonight at 7 at Derks Field against the Idaho Falls Braves because he's both the No. 1 man on the staff and because, with two summers of pro ball behind him, he should have command of the situation. This is his second time as a Trapper; he was 9-2 and led the Pioneer League in wins in 1988.
Belmonte and Brewer reason that Ambos' experience will keep him settled, what with a large crowd expected and all kinds of pregame distractions like bands, sky divers and four first-pitch throwers.
"It will be a circus-like atmosphere," says Ambos, adding that's fine with him, "being that I'm like a walking circus myself."
Ambos spent the offseason in Salt Lake City, tending bar, going to Golden Eagle games - with 6-foot-3, 225-pound size and game-day temperament to match his Fu Manchu mustache, he says he should have played hockey - and wondering where the Mariners would assign him for this season. He was apprehensive about that. They hadn't given him much of a chance the first half of last season in San Bernardino. "I was struggling for an identity," he says.
When they called this spring, they released him - too late for him to look for another big-league hookup. He called the Trappers.
"I love to play, and to come back here and play is a kick," he says, adding that if players can't have fun as Trappers, they can't have fun anywhere. "There's not as many rules," he says. "I by far led the (California) league in fines last year." He laughs about that, giving the impression it was worth it.
Ambos knows he probably won't go any further in pro ball; instead, he'll join the athletic staff at Rowland Hall-St. Mark's School in the fall and be an assistant coach in basketball, baseball and golf.
This summer's his last fling, and he's ready to make it fun by winning. "My motivation is to get a (championship) ring, something to show for my three years in pro baseball," Ambos says.