Ready for Prime Time?
Sanders' comeback bid with the Reds in full swing
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The second comeback of Deion Sanders is on.
It's not complete yet, for sure. The Cincinnati Reds -- somehow, some way -- still have to find a way to squeeze him onto the roster. There are a ton of questions about Sanders' hitting that have yet to be answered.
But the best cornerback ever to play pro football is undeterred in his quest to force his way back into baseball. He believes he can do it. And those around him believe, too.
"I'm too blessed to be stressed," says Sanders with a Prime Time-type smile, shortly before a scheduled exhibition game with the Texas Rangers on Sunday. "I have peace in life. Therefore I have peace in baseball."
Sanders, 33, is a non-roster invitee to the Reds' camp. He hasn't been in a big-league game in three years and, even when he was shuttling between the NFL and the major leagues, he was hardly a fearsome figure at the plate. His lifetime average is .266. He's generally considered a decent outfielder, not a great one.
Still, Sanders is healthy -- healthier than he has been, he says, in five or six years. The soreness in his surgically repaired ankle and knee, which stopped his first comeback last season, is a distant memory. That means his biggest asset -- his speed -- is back. His wild lifestyle is behind him, too, and a much lower-key Sanders says he's stronger spiritually than he's ever been.
Perhaps most important, though, is the people that count want him to succeed.
General manager Jim Bowden insists that Sanders still can be a major part of a winning team. He considers him one of the three best athletes of this generation, along with Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson.
"He really wants to make it work in baseball," Bowden says. "I think he's going to come back."
New manager Bob Boone believes, too. He is working closely with Sanders, adjusting his position at the plate, trying to keep him from jumping at the pitch. At worst, the Reds figure Sanders can revert to his 1997 form, when he batted .273 in 115 games and had 56 stolen bases.
"I've seen enough to know it's there," Boone says of Sanders' talent. "You're talking about somebody ... He has more fast-twitch muscle fibers than anybody on the planet.
"I don't see any skills deteriorating."
Sanders plays center field, but the Reds have Ken Griffey Jr. there. They also have Dimitri Young in left (.303, led the team in hits last season) and a possible competition for Sanders as a leadoff man in Alex Ochoa in right (he hit .316 last season). There are still several other promising youngsters ahead of Sanders, too.
Still, there is a feeling that, somehow, the Reds will make room. And that, once they do, the move will pay off.
Sanders won't be eligible for the big-league roster until May 1. But he's more than willing to wait. He says he's enjoying himself and still has plenty to offer the game.
"I'm really here to do something for it. I love the nature of the game, the challenges of the game," he says. "I love to bring players together. I'm really here to do something for it."
Deion Sanders' second comeback is on. Where it ends, we'll have to wait and see.