Jerry Sands spends time as a sub

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Remember back in high school when you had that substitute teacher who was also a major league ballplayer? You don't? Well, some junior-high and high-school students in North Carolina do.

Jerry Sands, the young Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder-first baseman who stands a decent chance of earning the major league minimum salary of $480,000 this season, spent part of the winter doing exactly what he did the previous two winters: working as a substitute teacher back home.

"I like being around the kids, and it's better than sitting at home," he said Thursday. "I actually got woken up at 4:30 this morning by a call from them wanting me to work today. I need to call them and tell them I'm no longer in town."

Sands said it didn't take long for word of who he was to spread around school and that before he knew it, students were asking for his autograph. He tried to be good-natured about it while not losing sight of the responsibilities of the job.

"I know when I was in school, I always enjoyed having a sub you could kind of joke around with instead of one that was always serious," Sands said. "You can get off the subject sometimes and start talking baseball, so you have to steer them in a different direction sometimes. In three years, I haven't had to write anybody up, so I'm kind of proud of that. But I do keep the write-up sheets around in case I have to."

Subbing wasn't all Sands did this winter. He began with a month-long stint in the Dominican Winter League, playing 20 games for the Licey Tigers and batting .250. He went home to North Carolina and got married Nov. 19.

Unless he has a terrible spring, Sands probably will make the Opening Day roster, his reward for hitting .342 with a .415 on-base percentage (including 12 for 26 with three doubles and a home run against lefties) during his second call-up in September last year. But even if it's in a reserve role, he will have to get plenty of playing time if he is going to stay in the majors because he is at a critical stage of his development. That could be helped by his ability to play both in the outfield and at first base.

"This guy will be a player, but it may not happen quite as fast as you want it to happen," manager Don Mattingly said, adding, "I feel like there will be enough at-bats for him, but we'll see."