Rickey Henderson can't tell Roger Cede�o all his secrets. How to time a pitcher's move to first? Sure. Where to find a decent pastrami sandwich in Manhattan? No problem. The goods, however—well, the goods simply come with years in the big leagues. Henderson, for example, has learned all the little moves and feints that can turn the calmest of pitchers into Jell-O; he knows how to make infielders adjust to him; he can read a catcher like a kindergarten primer. There's no way to simply hand that sort of knowledge to another player. "He's a quick learner," says Henderson of Cede�o, his fellow Mets outfielder and base stealer. "He'll figure it out." Maybe sooner rather than later. In 43 games with New York, through Sunday, Cede�o was batting .325 with 29 runs and 22 stolen bases, best in the National League.
"Roger's on his way," says Mets first base coach Mookie Wilson. "I don't think anyone here expects him to hit .340, but he's figuring out pitchers very quickly. All he wants to do is learn, especially about running. The guy lives for being on base."
More important for the Mets, the 24-year-old Cede�o has ably filled in for Henderson, who missed 22 games in April and May with hamstring and knee injuries. "When we acquired Roger, we knew he had a tremendous amount of talent," says Steve Phillips, the New York general manager who obtained Cede�o last fall as part of a three-way deal also involving the Dodgers and the Orioles, "but until a young player proves himself, talent doesn't get you much."
Just dreams. As a boy in Valencia, Venezuela, Cede�o was a dreamer. He would catch as many U.S. major league games on TV as possible, paying special attention to a swagger-stepping lead-off hitter, a guy with the thick calves and dangling fingers, a guy with the headfirst slide, a guy in green and gold. Simply put, Cede�o worshiped Henderson, then in his heyday with the A's and on his way to the major league record for stolen bases, from his crouched stance to his snatch catch. "He was the Man in so many ways," says Cede�o, looking across the New York clubhouse, watching Henderson dealing cards. Cede�o speaks very softly, in bursts of broken English. He smiles a lot. He played his first game of baseball at age four—the same year Henderson was a rookie. "When I was younger, I told my brother, 'I want to be just like Rickey Henderson.' " A big grin. "Here we are—in the same place."
Cede�o understands the improbability of it all. Three seasons back Los Angeles tagged Cede�o as a star of the future. Then he started striking out a lot. Confidence was lost. He took to sulking. "It's hard to do well when the team doesn't believe in you," he says, reflecting on last season's 240-at-bat, .242 fiasco. "I would go 0 for 4 with the Dodgers one day and 4 for 4 the next, and then be on the bench for three or four days. To me, that's not the right way to treat a person." By the time Phillips and the Mets came calling, L.A. was more than willing to include Cede�o as a throw-in in the Todd Hundley- Charles Johnson- Armando Benitez blockbuster. Thus far he's been the best of the bunch.
"All I ever wanted was a chance," says Cede�o, who signed with the Dodgers as a 16-year-old. "I've always had confidence in myself, but now I can play regularly, contribute and show people I have the ability to win." He looks back toward Henderson, the card game. "Here, how can I complain?"