Monday, March 9, 1998 | 11:34 a.m.
Doug Mirabelli said he enjoyed spending Big League Weekend with about 20 friends and family members, including parents Frank and Karen Mirabelli of Green Valley.
But the Valley High School catching product would just as soon not spend any more time around Cashman Field this year.
The 27-year-old Mirabelli is battling for a backup catching spot with the San Francisco Giants. If he doesn't make it, he'll probably be back at Cashman in June and July with San Francisco's AAA squad, Fresno.
The Giants carried three catchers for most of their 1997 National League West winning season. Brian Johnson returns as the starter with off-season acquisition Brent Mayne penciled in as his backup.
Mirabelli, who was called up twice for brief major league stints last season, is considered the frontrunner for the third spot that since-departed Damon Berryhill held last year ... if Giants manager Dusty Baker decides to keep three catchers again.
"I don't know if we'll keep three (catchers) or not," Baker said prior to San Francisco's 9-7 loss to the Anaheim Angels on Sunday afternoon at Cashman Field. "A lot will depend on whether we need to keep 11 pitchers or 12 pitchers. I prefer to keep three catchers, but sometimes you can't do it. We'll just have to wait and see."
"There's no telling what they're going to do," said Mirabelli, who hit .265 with 8 home runs and 48 RBI in 100 games last year at AAA Phoenix. "I don't think they even know yet. All I can do is to go out and do the best I can each day and the rest will take care of itself."
So far Mirabelli is off to a solid start this spring, with three hits in eight at-bats (.375) with four RBIs and three runs scored.
"He has as good a shot as anybody to make the team," said Giants third base coach Ron Wotus, who has coached Mirabelli during several stops on his six-year minor league career. "The tools are there. Now it's up to him to perform and take advantage of the opportunity."
Although 27 is usually a make-it or break-it age for a top prospect, Baker and Wotus say that's not the case for Mirabelli.
"It's not the age that's important," Baker said. "Look at Brian Johnson. He was 29 before he became a starting catcher. Catchers tend to last a little longer if they can stay healthy."
"If you can catch, age really isn't an issue," Wotus said. "As long as you keep improving which Doug is. He's only gotten better since he's been here. There's no way his skills have diminished."
"He's a solid defensive catcher," said Wotus, the 1997 PCL Manager of the Year. "He receives the ball well and does a nice job behind the plate. I would think at this point in time that would be his strength. But he's also had some good years hitting the ball."
Mirabelli has appeared in 15 major league games with the Giants the past two years and had 25 at-bats. He has five hits, including a double, and one RBI.
How well he hits the rest of March could go a long way to determining whether he gets to spend the summer in San Francisco or the in raisin capital of the world, Fresno.
"The next two or three weeks are very key for anybody trying to impress for a job," Wotus said.
"I'm going to just try and make this thing very hard for them," Mirabelli said. "That's all I can do."
* WILD THING: A crowd of 5,629 turned out at Cashman Sunday to see a real "Blood-letting" by the Anaheim Angels. The Angels jumped to a 6-1 lead after two innings en route to a 9-7 win thanks in great part to the wildness of San Francisco starter Darin Blood. Blood pitched one inning of no-hit ball, but still managed to give up five runs thanks in great part to five walks and a wild pitch. Lefthander Allen Watson (1-1) picked up the win for the Angels, allowing just two hits and one earned run in three innings. Giants first baseman Jeff Ball hit the only home run of the game.