Friday, March 12

OH Henry!

Spring Invitation, Jayson Stark makes some interesting remarks about Henry Rodriguez invitation to Pirates Spring Training;

It sounds so cool, so formal, so dignified: "Invited to spring training."
Greg Vaughn is in Cardinals camp with the hope of winning a roster spot.
So we've always wondered. Do these guys really get an invitation, on expensive paper, in a weird-shaped envelope? Do they open it up, thinking they've just been invited to a wedding?

That reminds me how much i hate going to weddings and putting a suit, weddings are the more boring experience in life.

"You'd better call my agent about that," says Pirates invitee Henry Rodriguez. "If they send an invitation, it never comes to me. It has to go to the agent."

Most of your Invited to Spring Training All-Stars, you see, are blasts from somebody's past. You know their names. You just know them from another time and place, when their lights were bright and their contracts were guaranteed.

But when we went looking for the ultimate Invited to Spring Training All-Star, we found ourselves coming back to Henry Rodriguez, a man who would have no ticket back into baseball whatsoever if there were no such thing as these spring invitations.

It's seven years now since Rodriguez was such a hero in Montreal (where he hit 62 homers in two years in 1997-98) that he was bombarded with O Henry candy bars every time he went deep.

"Even in Chicago, they threw that candy, in '98, '99, 2000," he says. "It was fun. I still eat them."

But he has had a little too much time to eat them lately. He hurt his back on the last day of spring training in 2001. Then he just about vanished off the baseball earth. He tried to make brief comebacks with the 2001 Yankees and 2002 Expos, but his back wasn't up to it.

So he took a year and a half off from any kind of baseball, surfaced this winter in the Dominican, looked good enough that a Pirates scout recommended him. And now, amazingly, he's in such good shape and his bat looks so quick, it wouldn't be a shock if he actually made the team -- even though, in the words of Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon, "he's damn near as old as me."

Well, not quite. McClendon is 45. Rodriguez is 36. But we all know what the odds are of a 36-year-old guy with one hit in three years making a real, live major-league team. That, even Rodriguez says, would be "pretty amazing." Could happen, though.

"I've worked so hard to get here," he says, "that if I go home, I'll go home satisfied. But if I make it, all the work will have paid off. That's why I wake up at 6:30 every morning, go to the gym and do all the work I do.

"I'm just happy to be playing baseball," says the captain of our Invited to Spring Training All-Stars, "even if I'm only invited to spring training."

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