Have baggage, will travel (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday March 5, 2008 9:25PM; Updated: Friday March 7, 2008 9:58AM
Rolen said he has not volunteered his story to any of his new mates, one of whom, shortstop David Eckstein, is actually an old teammate from St. Louis, though the two aren't especially close. Eckstein, who signed a one-year deal with Toronto, can't remember ever having been to dinner with Rolen despite spending three seasons playing alongside him on the Cardinals infield and wasn't even sure he had Rolen's phone number to call him when it looked like they would remain together after all.
"He's a great person, a great teammate, and I'm glad he's my teammate," was all Eckstein would say about the riff in St. Louis.
Wells did ask Rolen for a brief explanation of what happened in St. Louis and Rolen happily filled him in. "I don't mind them asking," said Rolen. "I wouldn't want to say it's none of their business because they can ask anytime they want."
"Nothing's been off limits," says Wells, adding, "Besides, if he didn't like me asking, he could just hit me. He's bigger than me."
For now, the only thing Rolen will be hitting is a baseball, which is something he hasn't done very well since his injury. Last year, his 10th with at least 100 games played, was the worst of his career, including career lows in home runs (8), RBIs (58), batting average (.265), on-base percentage (.331) and slugging percentage (.398).
The pain in his shoulder, plus a tender elbow, had made driving the ball virtually impossible, but offseason surgery and a strenuous workout program with Hap Hudson, a rehab coordinator from his days with the Phillies, has him feeling "better than I've been in the last three or four years. I [trained] really hard and heavy, especially my upper body."
If healthy, Rolen's bat will provide valuable protection in the lineup for Wells and Thomas, who said of Rolen, "I love him as a hitter because he can hit the ball all over the field. He's a professional hitter."
With his defense expected to be at its usual Gold Glove standard (Rolen has seven of them), the biggest variable remains his personality. While Rolen has displayed a bone-dry humor in the early spring, his past is no secret, which could make for a tense relationship with new manager John Gibbons, who has had run-ins in recent years with two of his own players (pitcher Ted Lilly and infielder Shea Hillenbrand).
"I actually don't feel like I have a problem playing for managers," Rolen said at his introductory news conference in January. "[With my] history, people might think otherwise. I don't think I'm necessarily an overly difficult person to get along with. I want to show up and be accountable and do the job to the best of my ability."
Gibbons told the Canadian Press: "Everything he does in the game, he does the right way. He's a hard-nosed dude. Sometimes personalities don't mesh, it happens. I let guys do their thing and have great respect for what they do. I've been a big fan of his watching him from the outside and there's not going to be a problem here."
A distraction like that is the last thing Toronto needs as it tries to make the postseason for the first time in the wild-card era. Rolen has three years and $36 million remaining on a contract he signed in 2003, but he can opt out of his deal at the end of this season. By then, the new kid in class will have come a long way toward showing whether all the questions about him, on the field and off, have been answered.
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