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Levi buttons down contract

Michael Traum

South Tahoe High graduate Levi Funderburk has signed another professional baseball contract, this time with the Western League’s Chico Heat.

Funderburk, who last year hit .303 in 200 at-bats and played first base for the Western League’s Reno Chukars, accepted a minimal pay raise to play with the first-year Heat.

According to Funderburk, the Chukars’ desire to trade him to a Mississippi team motivated the decision.

“There’s absolutely no hard feelings for Reno. I just wanted to stay in the area, near my family and friends. I asked (the Chukars) to let me out of the contract,” Funderburk said.

Heat general manager Bob Linscheid, who attained the franchise in April 1996, said the team first noticed Funderburk while scouting Reno last season.

“We’ve done a lot of research of the league, seeing how operations run. That’s when we first saw Levi,” he said. “We signed former Reno player Chris Butterfield. He knew a lot about players in the league and recommended Levi.

“People I’ve talked to say he’s a great guy. We’ve seen him play, but he hasn’t come to camp yet. I don’t know what kind of shape he’s in, so I hope he’s ready.”

Funderburk, who will face Reno 12 times next season, has been lifting weights and teaching kindergarten – a job which he said keeps him nimble on his feet.

“I know I have a lot to work on. I want to consistently drive balls and maybe get 15 homers. They may want to see me in left (field) or at first (base). That’s OK with me,” said the 6-foot, 6-inch line-drive hitter. “I just want to have the best time of my life. It’s just a matter of being myself.”

Spring training doesn’t begin in Chico until May 7, but players are encouraged to arrive early. Funderburk, who attended a tryout recently, said he’s impressed with everything he’s seen so far.

“They’re doing everything with class. There were 120 kids at the tryout and 100 fans just watching. They built a new stadium and have sold over 800 season tickets so far,” he said. “I’ve got the best feeling. I’m excited to get started.”

For details on the new organization, check out the Heat’s web site at http://www.chicoheat.com. Opening day is May 30.


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