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Power to Surprise / Rangers' Kapler not what you would expect

Just who is this Gabe Kapler, the player who made the

biggest impression on Opening Day with home runs in his first two at-bats for

the Texas Rangers?

The simple answer is that he is a 24-year-old, second-year rightfielder who

is batting .304 in six games. He is 6-2, 208 pounds, he bats and throws

righthanded and will be on the field for the Rangers at the Stadium for the

Yankees home opener this afternoon.

Yet it requires more than a simple answer. It probably would be easier to

identify who Kapler is not:

He is not Juan Gonzalez.

No, Kapler is not a two-time American League Most Valuable Player. He was

one of six players acquired for Gonzalez and two other Rangers from the Detroit

Tigers Nov. 2. Kapler just happens to be the one who is taking Gonzalez' place

in rightfield.

"Nobody in baseball expects me to go out and replace Juan Gonzalez because

he's irreplaceable," Kapler said before the Rangers' workout yesterday at

Yankee Stadium. "My job is to come in here and play hard and play as many games

with my style of play."

By the fourth inning of that first game, fans in rightfield were chanting,

"Juan Who?"

He is not the scrawny type.

Having begun weightlifting in high school, he has appeared on covers of

bodybuilding magazines. The July, 1999 edition of "gym" referred to him as

"Individualized Physical Perfection." His body-fat count has been reported at

3.98 percent.

He is not a junk-food guy.

His diet calls for him to eat six meals a day. "The theory behind it is the

body will use the food as energy, rather than breaking down the body and using

muscle to get bigger and stronger," he said. He eats oatmeal and apples,

cranberries, protein bars and shakes, chicken, fish, salads, baked potatoes and

an occasional steak. Not all of which are in the daily clubhouse spread.

"There are some adjustments to be made here," he said.

He was not a blue-chip prospect.

The Tigers took him in the 57th round of the June 1995 draft. Scouts

reportedly were skeptical of his arm because he was a third baseman in junior

college. They also were wary of his build. They didn't know if he would be

limber enough. Dennis Lieberthal, the scout who signed him, once said: "I do

know one thing about Gabe Kapler. He has tremendous makeup. He'll run through a

brick wall to get where he wants to go."

He is not a slow learner.

In his second season of pro ball, 1996, he led the Class A South Atlantic

League in hits, doubles and extra base hits. In 1998, he led the Double-A

Southern League in runs, hits, doubles, home runs and runs batted in. Playing

for Jacksonville, he was named the minor league player of the year by The

Sporting News and Baseball Weekly. He was promoted to the majors at the end of

that season.

He is not a classic hitter.

His batting average was only .245 (with 18 home runs in 130 games) as a

rookie for the Tigers last season. Away from Tiger Stadium, he batted only

.183. Scouts criticized him for trying to pull everything. He worked all spring

with Rangers batting instructor Rudy Jaramillo to revamp his swing. "There are

certain things you concede to try and get better," Kapler said. "There still

are a lot of things to be done."

He is not a Cal State-Fullerton graduate.

Kapler went there on a scholarship, but was admittedly unfocused and

insecure. He transfered to Moorpark (Calif.) Community College, from which he

was drafted.

He is not Gabe Kaplan, the comedian/actor.

But he was born in Hollywood.

He is not unaware of the world around him.

People who knew him when he was growing up say he is caring and has a heart

of gold. Rangers manager Johnny Oates calls him "effervescent."

Kapler's parents, Michael and Judy, met while they were working in the

antiwar movement in the 1960s. Judy, who grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn,

moved to California with Michael, who had moved from Brooklyn when he was a

child. She runs a nursery school. He composes children's music.

"They were both very supportive. They never put any pressure on me," Kapler

said, adding that his only regret is that he is not such a good piano player.

"If my dad was passionate about anything, it was trying to get me to learn the

piano. So naturally, I decided I wanted nothing to do with it."

His background is not like that of most ballplayers.

Kapler is one of the few Jewish players in the major leagues. "That's

something I take great pride in," he said. "I don't necessarily want to say I'm

practicing. That's not really fair. But I'm very interested in my heritage and

I'm very proud of who I am."

And who he's not.

New York Sports