NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The temperature was pushing 100 and Rick Short hadn’t had a day off in almost a month.

“At times, life in the minors is not fun,” the New Orleans Zephyrs’ 32-year-old infielder said. “Especially in August when you’re 12 games back and the games get hotter and harder. But sometimes it’s just great. And this has been a great year.”

Short, a minor leaguer for 12 years, made his major league debut this season and had two at-bats for the Washington Nationals. He is trying to become the first .400 hitter in a full-season professional league since Aaron Pointer batted .402 for the 1961 Salisbury Braves, a Class A team in North Carolina.

“I’m trying not to let it get to me, but it’s historic, it’s a mark anyone would be glad to have,” Short said. “I don’t want to feel pressured by it. It doesn’t keep me up at night, but it’s the first thing I think of in the morning.”

No major leaguer has finished with an average of .400 or higher since Ted Williams batted .406 for the 1941 Boston Red Sox. Short’s average, which rose to .402 on Aug. 19, was at .389 entering Friday’s game against Iowa. The Zephyrs, in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, had 13 games remaining. “You can’t help thinking about what you have to do,” he said. “Going 2-for-5 isn’t going to make it. I have to go 3-for-5 every game to get it and that’s not easy.”

Especially with the Zephyrs.

On Saturday there will be a doubleheader with a game at noon and another at night. That is if the hurricane out in the Gulf of Mexico didn’t push storms in ahead of it.

“The humidity down here makes it hard to hit,” he said. “And this isn’t a batter-friendly park.”

The final nine games will be on the road.

“It can be rough, long days, long games,” Short said. “In the minors you don’t have charter flights. You get a 4 a.m. wakeup call and have a 6 a.m. flight and a game that night.” Short knows what he’s talking about. He’s played in Class A and Double-A, lived in Rochester, N.Y., and Salt Lake City. He played in Japan and Mexico, marrying his college sweetheart and having a son and daughter along the way.

“I’d be lying if I said I never thought about giving it up,” Short said. “But then you come out to the park and think about your friends in offices someplace and you don’t want to give it up.”

Short acknowledges that sometimes he can see the ball like a big fat target as it heads toward him. And with experience he’s learned to read the pitchers, anticipate them. Zephyrs manager Tim Foli said Short is just a professional hitter.

“I was in the majors for 27 years as a player and coach, and I’ve only seen maybe five or six of what I call professional hitters,” Foli said. “He may not always get a hit, but he can slow things down and make the game come to him. When it’s on the line, he’s at his best.”

Although the Zephyrs are in last place in the PCL’s America Southern Division, Short has had a great season personally. He is on track to break the league batting average record of .379 set by Chris Smith with Phoenix in 1983, made the All-Star team, had hitting streaks of 20 and 21 games, both club records. He was brought up to the Nationals on June 9, making it to the major leagues for the first time after getting 1,235 career hits in the minors, and made his big league debut the following day against Seattle at RFK Stadium.

He pinch hit in the fifth inning, broke his bat when he fouled off the first pitch from Joel Pineiro, then took a called strike and singled to left to drive in a run, starting the Nationals’ comeback from a 2-0 deficit in a 9-3 win.

He was designated for assignment the following day, then brought back up June 30. In his only other plate appearances, both as a pinch hitter at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, he grounded out to third off Jerome Williams on July 2, then walked on a 3-2 count against Ryan Dempster the following day during the ninth inning of a 5-4, 12-inning win. Washington sent him back to the minors on July 5.

“We finally got him to the big leagues this year for two at-bats,” said Nationals general manager Jim Bowden. “He’s getting ready for another cup of coffee – on the first (of September), he’ll be back up here.”

Short’s high point in the season was Aug. 19 when he hit two home runs and boosted his average to 402. Since then, he’s playing with a sore left shoulder and left ankle and hit .158.

“That’s want makes what Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams did so amazing,” Short said. “You can come out and hit the ball really well four times and still go 0-4. So many things have to be just right for it to happen.”

AP Freelance Writer Pete Kerzel in Washington contributed to this story.

AP-ES-08-26-05 2046EDT

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