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OC Register: Hoornstra: Long Beach’s Spencer Steer knows how to pack ’em in for Reds

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It is not unusual for a local player on a visiting team to have a large contingent of fans cheering his every at-bat at Dodger Stadium or Angel Stadium.

It is rare for that contingent to number in the triple digits, as has been true for Cincinnati Reds rookie Spencer Steer this week in Anaheim.

Steer had the game-winning RBI in the Reds’ 4-3 victory over the Angels on Tuesday night, a double down the left-field line that allowed Elly De La Cruz to score all the way from first base. The immediate reaction from the announced crowd of 26,583 at Angel Stadium was not mixed; it was not boos. It was pure elation, on an order of magnitude usually reserved for an East Coast team with a national following. The Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees come to mind.

“I came to a lot of games (here) growing up,” Steer told Bally Sports Ohio after the game. “First time playing here was pretty special in front of a lot of friends and family.”

A lot might somehow be an understatement.

There were Steer fans in the seats near the Reds’ dugout and in a suite on the Club level. George Horton, the former Cal State Fullerton and University of Oregon coach who recruited Steer to Eugene, attended Tuesday’s game. The Millikan High baseball team – Steer’s alma mater – attended the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader. Scot Chamberlain, Steer’s coach when his team won the Pony League World Series in 2012, attended the late game Wednesday. His older brother, Connor, attended every game in the series and won’t stop once the Reds leave town. (He works for the Angels as a Client Services Representative.)

When the throng lingered after Tuesday’s game to greet their hometown hero outside the Reds’ dugout, it was at least a minor inconvenience to the Angel Stadium ushers, the men and women who are accustomed to seeing visiting fans dissipate quickly. Chris Steer, Spencer’s father, had to explain the unusual situation until Spencer emerged from the dugout to greet his many admirers.

“You like to show off for your family and friends who came out to see you,” Steer told reporters after Wednesday’s early game, in which he had three more hits and two more RBIs in the Reds’ 9-4 win.

Through Tuesday, Steer was leading National League rookies in hits (120), doubles (29), RBIs (67), and was third in home runs (18). He is a surprise candidate for the NL Rookie of the Year Award on a team full of them. Seven of the Reds’ starting position players in Wednesday night’s game were rookies.

An essential element of Steer’s appeal is that few, if any, among those in his inner circle saw it coming. He was featured on exactly as many preseason top-100 lists as you and I combined. He was “never,” by his father’s own admission, “a guy that did much damage” at the plate until recently.

“We had no expectations that Spencer would get to this level,” Chris Steer said.

Then again, many elements of Steer’s story are unusual. He’s a third-generation Millikan graduate on his mother’s side and a second-generation Ram on his father’s. Chris Steer played one year of baseball in high school, “but football came easier to me.”

The Steers did not steer any of their boys to baseball specifically, though their genetic disposition for sports ran strong. Not only are Spencer and 25-year-old Trevor Steer fraternal twins, so are their 27-year-old brothers, Connor and Tyler. Yet it was Spencer whose talent began to separate itself at an early age.

“I’m not a preachy guy but there’s a great quote,” Chris Steer said. “Your gift from God is your God-given talents; your gift to God is what you do with your talents.”

As 13-year-olds, Spencer and Trevor led a team from Whaley Park in Long Beach all the way to the Pony World Series in Washington, Pennsylvania. They lost in the championship game to a team from Taiwan.

As 14-year-olds, the Steer twins made it back to Pennsylvania. So did the team from Taiwan. Spencer hit two home runs in the championship game, including a grand slam in the second inning, to lead the Whaley Park team to a 9-7 win. They returned home to a hero’s welcome in the Belmont Shore Parade, where Chamberlain said they were presented with a key to the city. He still proudly displays a banner from that parade on the fence outside his home.

“My son played center field for Millikan, a year younger than Spencer, and he was pulled up to varsity as a freshman,” Chamberlain said. “He was just going on his natural ability and, eventually, if you don’t put in the work it catches up to you. He didn’t have what Spencer has: A hitting machine, working on his craft all the time.”

Even then, Steer did not separate himself as a potential major league hitter until years later. A turning point was the 2020 season, which every minor league player lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. Steer was planning to train in Oregon after the season, so he went back to Eugene when the Reds’ spring training was canceled.

The University of Oregon soon sent everyone home, too, so Steer returned to Long Beach. Chris Steer threw him batting practice. Steer took his hacks, three times a week, with coaches in the Minnesota Twins’ organization watching on the other end of a Zoom call. These sessions were instrumental in Steer’s transformation from “organizational depth” to “major league prospect.”

“When he got back to work in 2021, he began to see some results from his hard work – doing more damage, more doubles, more home runs,” Chris Steer said. “I’m forever grateful to the Twins organization that they spent that much time with him to develop him.”

The Twins also traded Steer to the Reds in a deal that, with only a year’s hindsight, looks lopsided: Steer, minor league pitcher Steve Hajjar, and first baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand for pitcher Tyler Mahle. Since the trade, Mahle has thrown 42 innings and provided less Wins Above Replacement (0.6) than Steer and Encarnacion-Strand (2.1) combined.

The Reds’ schedule will allow the Steers to see their son play in person in Arizona and San Diego before this season is over. The ticket requests will grow smaller and the cheers fainter, but the curiously large number of Southern Californians occasionally cheering for the Cincinnati Reds from afar will not.

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