Beltre's health, Sheffield saga cloud Dodgertown
Updated: Friday March 02, 2001 6:34 PM
Throughout spring training, CNNSI.com will feature regular dispatches from Sports Illustrated staffers assigned to scout camps in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues.
By Stephen Cannella, Sports Illustrated
TEAM: Los Angeles Dodgers
SITE: Vero Beach, Fla.
WEATHER: Overcast early, but bright sun, humid and high 70s by mid-morning. Definitely a sunglasses-down day for outfielders.
PLAYER I SAW WHOM I REALLY LIKED: Dave Hansen. The backup third baseman and utility player set a major league record with seven pinch-hit homers last season. A reputation as one of the most productive pinch hitters in the game can also be a curse, however. "I choose to like it instead of bitching about it," he said. Does he feel like it costs him chances at winning starting jobs? "Oh, yeah, he says. That's a fact." Hansen might get his chance this spring. If Adrian Beltre isn't healthy by Opening Day -- and it's highly unlikely he will be -- Hansen is a likely replacement at third base. He has the Grapefruit schedule to try to win the job over rookie Chris Donnells. Plus, judging from the lessons he was giving catcher Chad Kreuter's sons, Hansen is a pretty good guitar player too.
AROUND THE HORN:
New manager Jim Tracy has worked overtime to create a relaxed and positive atmosphere in camp, and there's no place like the paradisiacal Dodgertown complex to make one feel like everything in life is just gonna work out fine. But two crises loom over the team, and both will drastically affect what L.A.'s lineup looks like on Opening Day.
The first is Beltre's health. The 21-year-old third baseman hit .290 with 20 home runs last year in his second full season, and he's considered the Dodgers' brightest young star. In January he went to a hospital in his native Dominican Republic complaining of stomach pains; a few days later he had emergency surgery to remove a ruptured appendix. Beltre spent three weeks in the hospital fighting an accompanying infection before being moved to a hospital in L.A. Beltre hasn't eaten solid food since the second week of January, and he's walking around Dodgertown with a drainage bag attached to his abdomen to catch fluids leaking from the surgery wound. He has done little more than treadmill work since arriving in camp. Tracy hasn't ruled out Beltre's being ready for Opening Day, but that would seem to necessitate a medical miracle since Beltre is at least a week away from participating in on-field drills. "We have to be realistic about the fact that once he gets out there he has to get his arm and legs in shape," Tracy said. "The question is, is there enough time for him to do that?"
The second storm cloud -- it's actually a full-blown cyclone by now -- is the Gary Sheffield saga. On Friday, Sheffield, who had set next Tuesday as a deadline for the Dodgers to trade him or extend his contract, said he would make life for the Dodgers' front office miserable if the situation isn't resolved by then. "On Tuesday I'm going to tell it like it really is," he said, hinting at details that would embarrass Dodgers brass. "I'm going to tell you dates, tell you what I asked for and everything else."
Sheffield wouldn't go into specifics, but he's upset that Dodgers chairman Bob Daly expressed shock at Sheffield's request for an extension last week. Sheffield has hinted that they discussed his contract last November. If general manager Kevin Malone can't engineer a deal by Tuesday, an ugly situation will turn gruesome.
So the Dodgers played their exhibition game against the Astros on Friday not knowing what uniform their best player will be wearing in a week. Sheffield wasn't in the lineup; he was doing a TV interview in street clothes when the game started. "The sooner things get rectified, the better for us," said second baseman Mark Grudzielanek. "We can't let this go on. The clubhouse won't be the same ,and relationships [on the team] won't be the same."
Sports Illustrated staff writer Stephen Cannella will check in periodically with reports from his tour of spring camps.
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