Thursday, February 17, 2011

BD Spring Training Report: Time For Redemption | Baseball Digest

BD Spring Training Report: Time For Redemption | Baseball Digest

Spring training is all about redemption, about getting a clean slate; the chance to prove yourself to your new team or to earn new confidence from your old team. Sometimes it’s about cleaning up your personal life and image, or it can simply be a case of putting a poor performance behind you. Like every other season though, this spring training there are a number of stories involving redemption seekers.

Francisco Rodriguez made a quick impression on Major League Baseball in 2002. A late season call up that blew away hitters to earn the nickname ‘K-Rod’ and helped the at-the-time Anaheim Angels win their first World Series championship. Eventually he would replace All-Star Troy Percival in the closer’s role and would dominate American League hitters. In 2008 he saved a record breaking 62 games and then bolted for the Big Apple to the tune of $37MM over three years.

Obviously it would be difficult to match his ’08 numbers and at times Rodriguez wasn’t as consistent in his first year in a New York Mets uniform. But he still saved 35 games in 42 attempts, and made 70 appearances. Last season, due to injuries and other factors, the Mets had a miserable season. But nothing was more horrible than what happened off the field on the night of August 13 at Citi Field.

Rodriguez, after arguing with his girlfriend’s father, Carlos Pena, shoved the man into a wall and struck the 53-yr old repeatedly. Rodriguez was arrested and charged with assault. A month later seven counts of criminal contempt were added after Rodriguez sent a barrage of texts to his girlfriend/mother of his twins, Daian Pena, in violation of a court order of protection. Rodriguez plead guilty to all charges in December and was ordered to attend 52 anger management sessions. In addition he had to reimburse Pena for his medical expenses and paid a $1,000 fine.

Two months later he begins the process of winning back the support of the fans, his teammates, and the organization. Rodriguez spoke with reporters, including the NY Daily New’s Andy Martino, at the Mets’ complex in Port St. Lucie yesterday.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation I put myself in,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously I regret (it) a thousand percent. But I’ve got to move on. I’ve got to learn from those mistakes. It made me grow up more as a human being. I’m truly sorry for the way I put my teammates, the Mets organization, the fans, in that spot.”

“One second, one decision can change pretty much your whole life. It already happened to me in a bad way. When you have a lot of success, things going your way, you’re not thinking about the opposite. When that happened to me, it made me open my eyes. It made me realize I’m not doing things the right way. I just have to put my feet in earth once again and correct what I was doing wrong in trying to become a better father, a better boyfriend, better in everything. It made me grow up a lot in everything, all aspects.”

Rodriguez is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, which includes a $17.5MM vesting option for next season should he finishes 55 games or more in 2011. It will take a lot more to earn back the respect of the Mets faithful.

It may take a little longer for the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera to work things out. The devastating hitter was arrested late Wednesday night and charged with DUI and two counts of resisting arrest. It was especially troubling since Cabrera has an acknowledged drinking problem.

In October, 2009 he was taken into a custody after a domestic dispute with his wife. Though he was not charged with any crimes, his alcohol level was nearly three times (.26) the legal limit. Cabrera’s teammates were also let down because the incident occurred the night before a crucial game in the AL Central race. Last winter Cabrera was treated for alcoholism and declared last March that he no longer drank.

Cabrera seemed true to his word and responded on the field with an MVP-caliber season. But for now, it’s back to square one.

A.J. Burnett didn’t have the same issues as Rodriguez or Cabrera, but he struggled in his own right in 2010. He had been an integral part of the Yankees 27th world championship the prior year, but for whatever reason Burnett could never get a handle on any kind of consistency last year. Yankees fans tried to point the finger of blame everywhere else- at catcher Jorge Posada and substitute pitching coach Mike Harkey (regular pitching coach Dave Eiland had taken an extended leave of absence during the season), before squarely putting the blame and boos on Burnett himself.

The end result was a 10-15, 5.26 record and a pitcher whose confidence appeared gone. It also led to immature behavior- an angry Burnett smashed his hands on the shower room doors in the clubhouse during a July game and received cuts on both hands as a reward. Now he not only had let his teammates and organization down with his performance, but with his actions as well.

Remember the mantra, Feburary is the time for redemption and a clean slate. Burnett told reporters on Tuesday that he’s confident, that nothing needs to be fixed. But he did acknowledge what a disaster 2010 was. “I’m a force out there. Guys don’t want to face me. I just felt like guys didn’t care if they faced me (last year). I feel like I gave them that edge… I came here to win. I came here to pitch. I came here to be behind Big Man (CC Sabathia). And I wasn’t last year.”

Burnett’s new pitching coach, Larry Rotschild who also worked with Burnett in Florida, was asked if the talent abandoned Burnett first or his confidence. He told LoHud’s Chad Jennings and others, “It’s a chicken and egg question,” new pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “Is the confidence there because of success or is success there because he’s doing things right mechanically and gets confidence? I think we’ll attack it right now to get him in line to the plate. Get him comfortable throwing the ball, and I think he’ll get the confidence and demeanor that he should have.”

Burnett has a full year to figure it out, but for the sake of his team and himself, he had better figure it out in a hurry.

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