"I'm not getting caught up in it," says Muser. "Right now teams are still seeing them for the first time. What will these two do when the weather gets hot and the pressure mounts? When they're at 300,400 at bats? That's when we'll really know."
Beltran seems to have the clearer path to stardom. While growing up in Manati, Puerto Rico, he was a promising volleyball player. However, when he was 17, his father, Wilfredo, laid down the law. Says Carlos, "He told me, 'Volleyball is a good sport. But in baseball, you have the gifts to make a lot of money.' " Carlos was Kansas City's second-round pick in the 1995 amateur draft Thanks to remarkable bat control—Muser does praise Beltran's ability to hit to all fields—and speed in the outfield and on the base paths, Beltran soared from rookie ball to the majors in four years. He's most thrilled to be in the big leagues because he intends to use his salary to ease Wilfredo, a pharmaceutical salesman, into retirement and allow his mother, Carmen, to travel.
"If the Royals are smart, they'll lock him up with a 10-year contract, because there's no way we'll be able to afford him come arbitration," says K.C. leftfielder Johnny Damon. "He's the one guy who can bring this franchise up to respectability."
Febles, signed by the Royals in November 1993 as an un-drafted free agent out of La Romana, Dominican Republic, followed almost the same path through the Kansas City system as Beltran did. While Beltran sits quietly in the clubhouse sorting through fan mail, Febles constantly moves about and yaks with anyone who will talk to him. Early in the season Muser had to beg him to stop diving for grounders during BP.
Febles isn't the natural hitter Beltran is, nor is he as composed, but he works at the game. Against the Mariners last Friday, Febles was on first when Rey Sanchez hit a deep fly to left-fielder Butch Huskey. Upon catching the ball, Huskey momentarily paused. Febles, never one to pass up an opening, bolted back to first, tagged up and sprinted into second. It was pure hustle—the type of play a guy like Muser could get excited about. Even in May.
Lemke's Second Career
Former Infielder Knuckles Down
The New Jersey Jackals were three hours into a preseason workout under a hot sun in Wayne, N.J., last Friday, and several lazy swings and waved-through grounders made it clear that the players on this low-level minor league team were ready to go home. Until, that is, manager Kash Beauchamp called in yet another pitcher to throw the final inning of a simulated game. "Those guys couldn't wait to get a stick in their hands," says Mark Lemke, the former Braves and Red Sox second baseman, who was heckled by a bunch of minor league lifers as he took the mound. "I think even the pitchers wanted to hit."
A year ago, when he was with Boston, Lemke too would have rushed to the plate. Now he's just another rookie righthander in the eastern division of the independent Northern League, paid $700 a month and barred from the batter's box. On May 17 he joined the Jackals as an infield coach and also to try a comeback—as a knuckleball pitcher. Last Friday was the first time Lemke, 33, tried floating his butterfly pitch past a live hitter, and he admitted he was "way nervous." He gave up no runs and wasn't hit hard.
Lemke has toyed with the knuckleball since high school, and while with the Braves and the Red Sox he could usually be spotted tossing it before games. The unpredictable pitch now carries his hopes of getting back to the big leagues, where he spent 11 seasons, hit .246, played solid defense and was one of the clutch postseason performers of the 1990s (.272, 24 RBIs in 62 games with the Braves).
When he was flattened by White Sox catcher Chad Kreuter in a collision on the base path last May, Lemke suffered a concussion and, after returning to the lineup for one game six days later, spent the rest of the season on the disabled list. Lemke went home to Alpharetta, Ga., to recuperate from recurring headaches, sleeping problems and disorientation. The Red Sox didn't re-sign him, and he became a free agent, and though he was feeling normal again in January and began working out, no team invited him to spring training. He turned down Atlanta's offer of a coaching job and called Beauchamp, a longtime friend and former minor league teammate in the Braves' system.