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Outfielder Paul prospering since joining Pirates

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

SAN DIEGO — Outfielder Xavier Paul knew when the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Tony Gwynn Jr. in the offseason that one of two things would probably happen.

Either Paul would be gone, or the two would battle for a job. Paul, 26 and out of minor league options, made the club out of spring training for the first time. Then the Dodgers recalled outfield prospect Jerry Sands from Triple-A Albuquerque, relegating Gwynn Jr. to a bench role. Paul was designated for assignment on April 18.

Claimed off waivers by the Pirates on April 26, Paul made his third start in a row in left field Tuesday against the San Diego Padres in place of the injured Jose Tabata.

Paul was 2 for 4 during his first game against the Colorado Rockies, with a triple, a walk, two RBI and one stolen base. On Monday against the Padres, he went 2 for 4 with another stolen base.

"It's only been a couple days, but to get off to a pretty good start is exciting," Paul said. "I think the main thing is I'm really having fun playing with these guys. I keep telling people we're all young, we've got a lot of energy, and I think for a young team we have a lot of positive energy. Coming to the park, we expect to win."

Paul, understandably, had mixed feelings when he learned he'd been designated for assignment. The Dodgers drafted him in the fourth round in 2003 and gave him his first shot at the big leagues, and Paul also learned a great deal from some of his former teammates.

One was outfielder Juan Pierre, with whom he briefly lived and is one of the people Paul credits with developing his aggressive baserunning, among other skills.

"I think his work ethic and attitude about how to play the game is one thing I tried to grasp onto and make a part of my character," Paul said. "Get to the park early; get your work in; when you're out on the field give 110 percent; never take anything for granted. Those are the things Juan Pierre takes out there every day. To have a guy like that mentoring you, I feel like I was lucky and blessed to have that."

Another person Paul said he learned from was Manny Ramirez, who retired April 8 after violating the major leagues' drug policy for a second time.

"The best hitter that I've ever been around," Paul said. "Sitting on the bench behind him and getting to go in the cages with him, pick his brain about different pitchers, pitch selection, approach at the plate — who else would you want to talk to besides one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game• I learned a lot over there, a lot of things that I'm grateful for."

Manager Clint Hurdle said it was to quick to judge Paul's baserunning instincts after his short stint with the Pirates.

"I'm not quick to jump out there when people say what does this mean and what does that mean," Hurdle said. "He did a nice job, and I'm looking forward to bundling some games together and seeing what he can do with it."

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