The Yankees say they will not use Torre's cancer as a rallying cry for the season. The players consider this a situation that will pass, an illness, not an ending. "Joe's a very strong person," says reliever Darren Holmes. "Every day we'd see him lifting weights, working on the stair climber. He's in good shape, and they caught it early. We expect the best."
Marlins' Odd Man In?
Mark Fidrych talked to the ball. Al Hrabosky talked to himself. Bill (Spaceman) Lee was known to wear a propeller beanie onto the field. A.J. Burnett has...nipple rings. "Hurt like you wouldn't believe," the 22-year-old Arkansan says of having his accessories installed. "I once had knee surgery, and it didn't compare. The nipples were five seconds of torturous pain."
That also pretty much describes an at bat against the Marlins righthander, whose reputation—for his 97-mph fastball as well as his wackiness—is spreading through the Grapefruit League. In addition to the nipple rings, Burnett sports silver hoops in both ears and an abstract blue tattoo on his left biceps. His favorite band is Marilyn Manson. His favorite baseball team? "I'm not quite sure," he says earnestly.
"He's a little different," says Florida pitching coach Rich Dubee. "But the kid has an arm."
Oh, yeah—pitching. At Class A Kane County (Ill.) last season, Burnett went 10-4 with 186 strikeouts in 119 innings. His fastball has, in the words of catcher Jorge Fabregas, "a whole lot of pop to it." Burnett also throws a knuckle curve in the high 80s and a well-developed changeup. Marlins manager John Boles invited Burnett to spring training with the idea of sending him to Double A or Triple A. But with each impressive performance this spring, Burnett has made Boles's decision—Devil Rays refugee Dennis Springer or Burnett as his fifth starter—more difficult. Burnett struck out four of the seven University of Miami batters he faced in his first appearance, and he went 2⅔ innings without allowing a run against Montreal on March 10. "He'll have to have an absolutely knockout spring training to stay with us," says Boles. "But so far...."
Growing up in North Little Rock, Burnett played catcher, third base—everything, it seemed, but pitcher. Even in high school, at Central Arkansas Christian, although, Burnett says, he could throw in the low 90s, coaches didn't use him on the mound. Then, in 1995, at the end of his senior year, he pitched four games. At one of those, a seven-inning shutout against Russellville High, a Mets scout happened to be in the stands. That June, New York picked Burnett, a pitcher for all of three weeks, in the eighth round of the draft. Burnett went to Florida in February 1998 in the Al Leiter deal.
"I dreamed of playing baseball, but as a position player," he says. "I could always throw pretty hard, but I never thought this would happen. It's weird, isn't it" Weird is the word.
End of the Road
Listach's Broken Promise
Not long after he hit .290, stole 54 bases and was named the 1992 American League Rookie of the Year, infielder Pat Listach was offered some wisdom by a Brewers teammate. "That was the worst tiling you could do," said third baseman Kevin Seitzer, who as a rookie in '87 had stroked 207 hits. "You've put the bar at a high level. From now on you either reach it every year, or you're a disappointment."