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About Jon
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Ten Stories Here, A Thousand There
2005-02-22 10:00
by Jon Weisman

Here comes the stuff I like. Spring Training. Back out on the field with stories of hopeful rebirth. Let's get out on some freshly mown grass, close our eyes, lean back, feel the morning sun on our faces and breathe again.

Certainly thought I'd be the first on to write that Ozzie Smith's son was one of the final 24 on American Idol (the resemblance is there). Since I'm not, here is a small sampling from the thousands of stories going around baseball at the approach of March.

  • Brad Penny - so rushing to get ready last September, so pacing himself now.

  • Hideo Nomo - trying to score one for the value of time and change of scenery. Paul Shuey too. Sometimes it seems like teams are only interested in paying the medical bills before then letting the competition reap the benefits. But these guys do have a lot to prove - there is probably no next stop for them. Meanwhile, coming our direction ...

  • Paul Shuey : Tom Martin :: assistant general manager Roy Smith : Scott Erickson

  • Pedro Astacio - Dodger Thoughts hero - believing like Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano and Shannen Doherty/Rose McGowan in the Power of Three:

    In Texas, Astacio is reunited with Chan Ho Park and Orel Hershiser, who were teammates of his during his time with the Dodgers (1992-97). Park is trying to remain in the Rangers rotation and Hershiser is now Rangers pitching coach.

    "Chan Ho is my buddy and I have so much respect for Orel," Astacio said. "I feel like this is the second time Orel is my pitching coach. He was always helping me with the Dodgers. This is a great situation for me."

  • Eric Karros - taking on official retirement with an ESPN commentator job. As edgy and inexperienced a broadcaster as he is, and as little as the Dodgers need to tenure another former local hero in their booth, I have the feeling that Karros will flourish in his new calling. The further he gets from the Dodgers and that history, the more effective he'll be.

  • Robb Nen, connected to Penny this weekend by virtue of having been identified with the same nerve injury as the Dodger starter, 12 years earlier, now faces retirement after rolling the dice on his career - and losing - in a manner that deserves to become a minor legend in San Francisco:

    Nen, 35, amassed 314 career saves, 13th on the all-time list, and made three All-Star teams. He was still at the peak of his powers midway through the '02 season when he decided to continue pitching despite a rotator-cuff injury that the training staff privately told him at the time was career-threatening.

    The Giants made it to the World Series that year, thanks in part to seven postseason saves by Nen, before losing to the Anaheim Angels. Nen has yet to throw a big-league pitch since, enduring a frustrating comeback effort that several times has allowed him to sustain a 90 mph fastball, if only for a day.

  • Steve Finley - older than these other fellows but not nearly ready to retire - just trying to focus on the field after a scary offseason:

    On Jan. 23, shortly after beginning her ninth month of pregnancy, Finley's wife was hit in the face by a line drive while attending her son's Little League game in Del Mar, Calif.

    Amy Finley suffered a broken nose, but when doctors couldn't stem the bleeding, they were forced to induce labor, some 3 1/2 weeks before her due date. Amy gave birth to a daughter, Sophia, on Jan. 26 <97> the same day Steve Finley's 61-year-old father, Howard, underwent quadruple bypass surgery in Kentucky.

    "That's not a three weeks I'd wish on anybody," said Finley, the former Dodger who signed a two-year, $14-million deal with the Angels in December. "It was scary because I was worried about my wife and the baby. Then, the day after she got hit, we found out my dad needed open-heart surgery."

    Amy Finley was hospitalized for 10 days and still suffers from fatigue and light nosebleeds, but the baby is fine. Howard Finley's recovery is going well.

  • Odalis Perez - another scare recipient, hoping to prove that it wasn't nerves or declining strikeout ability that sabotaged him in the 2004 playoffs, but stress over his mother's emergency cancer surgery. Hoping even more that his mother's recovery continues.

    I know the conventional wisdom is that you're not supposed to make excuses, but sometimes I'd like to hear them. I'd rather know that Odalis Perez is hurting mentally, or Shawn Green or Hideo Nomo is hurting physically.

  • Norihiro Nakamura - already rolling an expensive set of dice on his career, with time to break open the hourglass and examine each grain of sand while he waits for a visa that will allow him to begin competing for a job. "It could be several days before he reports," Dodger manager Jim Tracy told Tony Jackson of the Daily News.

  • And finally, the daughter of demon-chased former Dodger farmhand and Padre basestealer Alan Wiggins, Stanford freshman guard Candice Wiggins, is the leading scorer on the second-ranked Cardinal, averaging 17.4 points per game. Kelli Anderson profiled the just-turned-18-year-old in Sports Illustrated last month:

    ... there is one challenge in her life that she doesn't see as a competition, a puzzle that she may never finish: getting to know her late father, former major leaguer Alan Wiggins. At 32 and with a history of drug abuse, he died from complications of AIDS on Jan. 6, 1991 -- a month shy of Candice's fourth birthday. "I feel I know him so well, yet I don't really have any idea who he was," says Wiggins. "It's sort of a life quest, to get as much of a picture of him as I can."

    How serious some of these stories are. Don't be surprised to hear this from me, but I'm invested - although I lean heavily on statistics in player analysis, my personal attachment to the game is very much involved in the backstories of the players ...

    It<92>s all about backstories. The Pedros have backstories. Kevin Brown has a backstory. Hiram Bocachica has a backstory. Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth - all-time backstories. All the teams, from the Dodgers to the Devil Rays to the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, have backstories. The sport as a whole has its own collective backstory. And then, when these actors take the field - either at the ballpark in front of you, or on television, or in a book or newspaper clipping, you have all this set-up to appreciate the significance of everything they do.

    Baseball is a stage, a movie set, a comic-book world in which all these characters enter and exit and live and die. As you begin to care about one character and watch his journey, it snowballs and you begin to care about others upon others. It is not waxing mystical or fantastical to say that it is a world filled with drama and comedy and exhilaration and heartbreak. It just is - in a deeper, more evolved sense than any movie honestly can ever offer.

    What a movie offers <85> for better or worse, is that it ends. Baseball doesn<92>t.

    Yes, the ballplayers make more money and probably have less trouble getting a date than most of us, but they still dream and hurt and grieve and hope. If talent in sport gives these players encourages us to pay an undue amount of attention, at least sometimes we know it isn't wasted.

    The good news is, we've already had the best story of all this spring: After five months, Detroit pitcher Ugueth Urbina's mother was recently rescued from her kidnappers.

    Harbinger away.

    Sources: Los Angeles Times, Tampa Tribune,, The Associated Press, Los Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Sports Illustrated

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