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Associated Press Newswires

Sierra Stuck With It When His Career Plummeted


April 27, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

SEATTLE (AP) - Ruben Sierra hit bottom four years ago when his young son asked why he was no longer playing on television.

Sierra couldn't tell Ruben Jr. he had dropped out of the major leagues.

"I'd always say, 'I'm playing in the league where they don't present the games on TV,"' the Seattle Mariners' outfielder recalled. "It wasn't easy that way, but thank God I got through all that."

Sierra, 36, was released by the Chicago White Sox in 1998 and was playing with Atlantic City of the Independent League the next year. He started the 2000 season with the Cancun Lobstermen in Mexico - cool name, bad assignment - before getting another chance in the big leagues with Texas.

After playing 114 games with the Rangers the past two seasons, he's leading the Mariners, his seventh major league team, in batting average among the regulars in the lineup. Sierra has played a big role in another successful start for Seattle, which won 116 games in its record-setting 2001 season.

Heading into a three-game weekend series with the New York Yankees in Seattle, Sierra was hitting .393 with two home runs and 10 RBIs.

"My son was the one who motivated me," said Sierra, from Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. "After you're in the major leagues, you don't want to be no place else."

He can't explain how he reached such a low, or why his playing time decreased and his numbers dropped. His career started out as a promising one. He was voted an All-Star in 1989 in his third full season in the majors and was compared to Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.

But that changed. Before he was cut by Chicago, Sierra's son so desperately wanted to see his father play that he offered his dad a suggestion to try to get him in the lineup.

"He told me, 'Tell the manager you're going to eat rice and shrimp and fish and that you're going to be strong and you're going to hit two home runs tonight.' It made me cry when he said that," Sierra said.

Ruben Jr., now 11, has plenty of chances to see his dad play now.

"He just had to take two steps backward before he could take a step forward," said Mariners center fielder Mike Cameron, who also played with him on the Chicago White Sox. "Obviously that has helped him out a lot to come to that point of going down to that level of play. But it's still baseball. And it gave him an opportunity to be seen."

Sierra didn't even make the Rangers' roster out of spring training last season but ended up appearing in 94 games, more than he had played from 1997 to 2000 combined.

He batted .291, with 23 home runs and 67 RBIs.

"Last year, it surprised everybody in baseball, but after seeing him play the last three months for us almost every day, he can still play," Rangers manager Jerry Narron said.

The Mariners signed Sierra to a $1.9 million, one-year contract in December.

His success in Seattle has come at a crucial time. Sierra has been the primary fill-in for injured designated hitter Edgar Martinez. Martinez is on the disabled list after April 13 surgery on his right hamstring to remove a ruptured tendon and is expected to be out at least a month.

Sierra is confident he will have a role with the team even once Martinez returns. And he's probably right.

"A lot of people would just say the heck with it," Mariners manager Lou Piniella said. "But he had the tenacity and the willpower to work his way back. That's always a good sign."

Teammate Mark McLemore agrees.

"It's not surprising he's doing what he's doing, not surprising at all," McLemore said. "What you see is what Ruben's about. That's how he plays and that's how he's always played. If it hadn't been for that period he wasn't in the big leagues, he'd have Hall of Fame numbers. There's just no doubt about it in my mind."

Rafael Palmeiro, Sierra's teammate in Texas, wishes the powerful switch-hitter were still wearing a Rangers uniform.

He's happy for him nonetheless.

"I think that he was humbled in this game a lot," Palmeiro said. "I think that he's just playing with passion again like how he did when he was young."

Palmeiro misses Sierra's clubhouse humor - and his music. Sierra likes to sing and has recorded three CDs.

He received a couple of compliments recently when he strolled into the clubhouse wearing a black leather top hat.

"He's cool. He's always been cool," Cameron said. "He said he's changed and he's changed for the good. He's focusing on the positive things. You get another opportunity and try to make the best of it. You don't let it slip away. He just realized he had the opportunity and he's been showing it."

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