Dodgers’ Opponents Have To Wrestle With Chris Taylor

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Back home, Armand Taylor still has the rubber battleground.

“We’ve got pieces of mats, up in the attic somewhere,” he said.

He wrestled well enough to make the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame. His son Chris also wrestled there and has the school record for fastest pin.

Ask any football coach. Wrestlers are always welcome.

They’re disciplined, they understand leverage, and their sport is stripped of all excuses and disclaimers, as well as most clothes.

It’s you and him. You don’t win because he double-bogeys or because he nets a forehand. You have to beat him.

Oh, and you have to make weight.

Chris’ son Chris Jr. wrestled, too. He was Virginia Beach’s middle school champion.

“He was good, but he was nervous,” said his grandmother, Myra.

Then he chose baseball.

“I have fun in competition,” he told his grandma, “but with baseball I have fun all the time.”

The wrestlers in the family understood.

Now the Taylors watch the MLB TV package deep into the morning. All year they’ve seen Chris play brilliantly for the Dodgers.

Only they can tell when he’s having fun. He didn’t abandon wrestling. He just brought it to Dodger Stadium.

“He’s pretty serious,” Chris Sr. said. “When he gets around his friends a different side comes out, but you don’t see him messing around.”

“He was the most focused and driven player I’ve ever been around,” said Jim Pankovits, one of Taylor’s minor league managers. Pankovits has been in pro baseball since 1976.

Taylor became the player of the year in the entire Tidewater area. The recruiters saw a small shortstop without evident power.

Virginia Tech didn’t recruit him seriously. William & Mary did. Then Virginia, a nascent powerhouse, came along.

“I told Chris we already had signed a couple of shortstops,” Coach Brian O’Connor said. “He looked at me and said, ‘I’m coming anyway.’ He started in right field as a freshman, and then our main shortstop (Stephen Bruno) got hurt, and that’s where he played.”

In 2013, Virginia, ranked first nationally, trailed UC Irvine, 2-1, in an NCAA super regional final through 8½ innings. Irvine got the lead after a catcher’s throw bounced off Taylor’s glove and into the outfield.

Then Virginia had nobody on with two outs in its ninth. But it loaded the bases.

“On the list of guys we didn’t want to see come up there, Taylor was probably least of all,” UCI coach Mike Gillespie said at the time.

Taylor drilled a two-run single that sent the Cavaliers to the College World Series.

Then Seattle took him in the fifth round, and Taylor began wrestling fate.

He had a chance at the shortstop job in 2015, but broke his wrist in spring training.

In 2016 he was promoted for one game and made two errors. New General Manager Jerry Dipoto and his regime passed judgment.

Three weeks later he was dealt to the Dodgers for former first-round pick Zach Lee. Since then, Seattle and San Diego have released Lee.

“Chris figured it would be a good move,” Chris Sr. said. “He was starting to feel trapped in Triple-A.”

Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward had come from the Mariners and vouched for Taylor, who had developed a new, powerful swing.

Taylor hit 23 homers in his minor league career and 21 for the Dodgers this season, and also drove in 72 runs with 34 doubles, four grand slams and an .850 OPS.

He played five positions, including 49 games in center field, and became the leadoff man. He and Cody Bellinger were the Dodgers’ two windfalls. They took the Dodgers from pretty good to 104-wins good.

“Until he got to Virginia he hadn’t played the outfield since he was about 7,” Chris Sr. said. “But he was athletic and he paid attention and he worked at it.”

Roy Howell also managed Taylor in the Seattle system. He and Pankovits were mystified by the trade.

“We talk about students of the game,” Howell said. “That’s what Chris was. He’s watching everything that goes on.

“He used to hit the ball all over the place but he figured out he had to learn to handle velocity inside. That’s what separates guys, and that’s what he did.”

Howell laughed.

“Whenever I hear a hitter say, ‘I’ve got it,’ I know he’s in trouble,” Howell said. “Hitting is so hard. Round bat, round ball, nine against one. It’s a constant battle. You’ve never ‘got it.’ I don’t think you’ll ever hear Chris say he’s got it. That’s why he’ll continue to succeed.”

When your name is Christopher Armand Taylor and you’re looking at one mat and one man, there is little choice.

ocregister.com/2017/10/04/whicker-dodgers-opponents-will-have-to-wrestle-with-taylor/