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Blue Jays: He's Fielder, but can he hit?

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Posted: Friday February 26, 1999 01:25 PM

 

By Jeff Pearlman, Sports Illustrated

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Cecil Fielder tells me there's no reason he can't hit 50 home runs for the Blue Jays. He says he is in great shape ... that his bat speed hasn't slipped ... that he's every bit the player he was 10 years ago. As Fielder talks, Geronimo Berroa walks by. Then Willie Greene .

Can Shooty Babbitt be far behind?

The depressing thing about spring training -- Boys of Summer be damned -- is all those careers that should be no more. Fielder's hair is mostly gray. His stomach is big. He says he can still get around on the fastball, but reality says he hasn't done so for three years. Last season, he collected 66 RBIs for the Angels, but was released. "I'm still upset about that," he says. "They said I wasn't driving in runs, but I was leading the team." Maybe so, but Fielder -- after a quick start -- struggled throughout the summer. Anaheim skipper Terry Collins wouldn't say as much, but Fielder's bat speed simply isn't what it used to be.

And yet, here he is, Toronto's great DH hope. The Blue Jays, led by right fielder Shawn (Kosher Kid) Green and first baseman Carlos Delgado , have some serious pop in their lineup, but Jose Canseco took his 46 home runs to Tampa. "Cecil Fielder, Geronimo Berroa and Willie Greene are all major league hitters," says manager Tim Johnson , in defense of his potential designated hitters.

So were Tim Foli , John Castino and Terry Whitfield . But you wouldn't want `em playing for you.

  • A cruel, somewhat funny thing I heard all over the Jays' camp: Every time a pitcher uncorks a wild one, someone yells, "Hey, Wohlers!"

  • Graeme Lloyd , the lefty reliever obtained in the Roger Clemens deal, has earned the rep as one of baseball's best middle-inning specialists. For him, that's no longer enough. "I told the Blue Jays I want to be considered for the closer's job," he says. "I've been pigeonholed throughout my career as a guy who can only get lefties out. I'm a bit tired of that. Hopefully, they'll let me prove myself." Unlikely. The Jays are committed to Robert Person , the former Mets farmhand with wicked velocity but wavering confidence. Unless he flops miserably, Lloyd ain't closing.

  • An early prediction: Shawn Green will be the A.L. MVP.

  • Tim Johnson has been asked 1,278 times about lying about serving in Vietnam. Although his actions were, well, pathetic, his openness is refreshing. Johnson doesn't shy away from the topic. "I made a bad mistake," he says. "There are people I've apologized to, and others I still need to."

  • In his first speech to the full squad, Johnson said -- in no uncertain terms -- that the Jays are capable of winning the A.L. East, a division that (we remind you) includes the Yankees. "We have championship talent here," Johnson said. "Anything is possible." Including admittance to the nearest mental hospital.

    Sports Illustrated staff writer Jeff Pearlman will check in with periodic Postcards from his tour of spring camps.

     
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