THE EARLY days of spring training are a time to loosen
stiff muscles, reconnect with teammates and, if you're Jeff Bagwell, try to
ignore the fact that your bosses would rather you weren't around. The first
baseman's standoff with the Astros--they have an insurance policy that will pay
$15.6 million of Bagwell's $17 million salary if he's not healthy enough to
play--took an awkward turn when the franchise leader in home runs and RBIs
arrived in camp last Friday, hell-bent on proving he belongs in the lineup this
season. "I felt like it was a little bit of a trial camp," said
Bagwell, 37, who played only 39 games last year because of a shoulder injury.
"I felt like I almost had to try and prove something." He does: Doctors
who examined him last month told Houston his shoulder was still damaged and he
shouldn't be expected to throw or hit like he once did. Bagwell doesn't have
long to prove otherwise. "I can't just go away," he said. "I'm
going to need a couple of weeks ... and then make a decision from there."