News Forum Blogs Roster Players Schedule Depth chart Stats Videos Photos

Baltimore Orioles News

News » Baseball elders teach lessons of the game

Baseball elders teach lessons of the game

Baseball elders teach lessons of the game
Elvis Andrus can't decide on the most exciting moment of his offseason.

There was the December day word got to the 20-year-old that the Texas Rangers had asked reigning Gold Glove shortstop Michael Young to move to third base to make room for Andrus. "I was in my house in Venezuela, and I was jumping around like a little kid," Andrus says.

Barely a month later, Andrus found out the Rangers had signed another shortstop -- 11-time Gold Glove winner and fellow Venezuelan Omar Vizquel. "I said, 'This is going to be soooo good,' " Andrus says.

The 20-year veteran who stirs debate about his Hall of Fame credentials against the kid who hadn't spent a day above Class AA. The oldest and youngest current non-pitchers in the major leagues.

No contest, right? Right.

There is no competition. Andrus is the Rangers' shortstop. Vizquel's role is clear -- to him, to Andrus, to anybody who will listen to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels: mentor.

Teams regularly mix savvy veterans with talented young players, hoping tricks of the trade and advice on everything from how to turn a double play to how to avoid trouble in night spots on the road will rub off.

Even decorated players, such as the San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum, 24, the 2008 National League Cy Young Award winner, can benefit from a veteran's presence. "Once you get over the shock and awe. ... If Randy Johnson is going to say something to you, of course you're going to pay attention," Lincecum says of Johnson, a 295-game and five-time Cy Young winner who joined the Giants this offseason.

Potential mentors pepper the majors this season, including:

*The Houston Astros and catcher Pudge Rodriguez.

*The Milwaukee Brewers and closer Trevor Hoffman.

*The New York Mets and versatile infielder Alex Cora.

*The Oakland Athletics and first baseman-DH Jason Giambi.

Boyhood hero

The Rangers wanted to take the hoping out of the equation. Daniels told Vizquel, 41, up front that he wanted someone to mentor Andrus and that person needed to embrace the role.

"Being at this moment of my career gives me the knowledge about what to do, situations at that position," Vizquel says. "To be able to share that with young guys starting their major league careers is just great."

Willing teacher, willing pupil.

"He's like a book," Andrus says of his boyhood hero. "Just to take ground balls with him is a dream come true."

He does that daily.

Andrus hangs close at the batting cage and was thrilled when he arrived at spring training and found he and Vizquel had adjacent lockers. "I have so many questions to ask," Andrus says. "I tell him sometimes, 'Tell me if I bother you too much.' But he's always been available."

Most of the talk, for now, is Baseball. Vizquel says the life lessons will come but he would rather wait for situations rather than burden Andrus with warnings. "You don't teach that stuff," Vizquel says.

If Vizquel gets to the Hall of Fame, his defense will be the reason. Andrus already makes spectacular plays and, like many rookies, sometimes mishandles what should be easy ones.

Andrus has two errors and is batting .238 with one home run.

"It's mostly about how to anticipate plays, little things about my footwork," Andrus says of what he's learned from Vizquel. "He tells me 80% of the game is preparation. Try to simplify everything -- see it, move your feet, throw to first base. I see how seriously he takes ground balls. His feet are always moving. You never see the ball hit the glove.

"I ask him, 'Why do you even use a glove?' "

Vizquel is best known for his flashy, sometimes barehanded plays on ground balls. Andrus hasn't tried that and says he doesn't expect to. And if he does?

"I probably would congratulate him, because it probably was just a reaction play," Vizquel says. "But if I think he's hot-dogging, I'll get all over his butt."

Learning process

Unlike the seemingly smooth working environment between Vizquel and Andrus, some cross-generational clubhouse relationships can be awkward.

Andrus was 7 months old when Vizquel made his major league debut in 1989. Lincecum grew up near Seattle where, from the time he was 5 until he was 14, Johnson was a standout with the Mariners.

"You realize he's a regular dude," says Lincecum, who stars in a video game commercial in which Johnson, 45, has a cameo.

Often the veteran knows he's prepping his successor, who might be ready to take over sooner than the veteran would prefer.

The Astros signed Rodriguez, 37, late in spring training to a one-year deal because they needed a catcher. But they also added a 14-time All-Star whose mentoring of the 2003 Florida Marlins' young pitching staff was a factor in that team's World Series victory.

"These guys come to me, and we talk about pitching, catching, everything," says Rodriguez, who wants to prove he still can be an everyday player. "That's one of the things I like to do. (But) I'm here to play every day and try to make this team have a good year -- and have a good year myself."

Not all players are as comfortable with the mentoring role as Rodriguez.

"I've never been a huge fan of mentoring," says Roy Halladay, the Toronto Blue Jays pitcher and 2003 American League Cy Young Award winner.

However, many younger pitchers, including A.J. Burnett, who was a member of the Blue Jays from 2006 to 2008 before joining the New York Yankees in the offseason, rave about Halladay's influence.

"I think anytime you try to get caught up in mentoring, you may lose sight of what you're supposed to be doing," Halladay says. "I think the ideal situation would be that everybody learns together."

Talking Baseball

The clubhouse dynamics have changed just in the time some of today's mentors have been in the majors.

Mentoring is "done after a ballgame a lot, just talking Baseball," says Hoffman, 41, who had a reputation of helping younger players during his 16 seasons with the San Diego Padres. "But clubhouses clear out sooner than they used to."

Hoffman, the career saves leader, says pressing your wisdom on a younger player often doesn't have the desired results.

"They almost have to come to you," he says. "It's learning how to deal with things. They have to experience something before you can really talk about it."

Orioles shortstop Cesar Izturis, a nine-year veteran with his sixth team, says he doesn't understand why some players pass up the opportunity, one he capitalized on as a young player when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He and second baseman Cora, now 33, would sit on a trailer used by the Dodgers Stadium grounds crew before batting practice every day.

"I'm a quiet guy, but I realized this is a guy who might help," Izturis says. "When you find a guy like that, you have to take advantage. Alex would tell me about Baseball stuff. But life stuff comes out of it. I listened. I thank him now."

It wasn't so long ago that such conversations, let alone full-scale mentoring, would have been out of the question.

"My first spring training, my locker was between Dave Stewart and Goose Gossage," Giambi says. "How's that for intimidating? I don't think I said a word for six weeks."

Rookies were seen and not heard until they proved themselves. Then they might be fortunate enough to get some advice. But they also were expected to have fine-tuned their games in the minor leagues.

"That's where it's really changed," Giambi says. "Young players come in now, they have all this talent and a lot of money.

"I think in my generation, there was a big turnaround. Teams didn't take such a cautious approach anymore. They thought, 'We'll teach 'em in the big leagues.' "

Giambi did the learning a decade ago in Oakland with Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez, then took the time with players such as Joba Chamberlain in New York.

Now, Giambi is back where it all began after his seven-year stint with the Yankees, which included headlines from the BALCO steroid scandal and a public apology for his involvement.

"One of my jobs is to help guys like (outfielders Travis) Buck and (Ryan) Sweeney," says Giambi, 38. "These guys can be the next face of the organization. That's a lot of pressure. ... And you know we're only going to be as good as those young kids."

Contributing: Seth Livingstone

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: April 14, 2009

Baltimore Orioles Photos
All the latest Baltimore Orioles Photos Store photographs. Major League Baseball MLB.
The most recent photo
Add to Google
Add to My Yahoo!
Subscribe in NewsGator Online
Add to Windows Live

Copyright ©, Inc. All rights reserved 2008.