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Carlos Baerga: Future Candidate…Lopez's Return A Derby Win Itself

Carlos Baerga: Future Candidate

By Don Ketchum, The Arizona Republic

July 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Arizona Republic. All rights reserved.

Carlos Baerga is keeping himself busy these days as a reserve infielder and the primary pinch-hitter for the Diamondbacks.

During the winter, he stays busy as an owner of the Bayamon Vaqueros in his native Puerto Rico.

Baerga hopes to keep busy in the future as an owner or front-office executive in the major leagues.

"I believe I can help in Major League Baseball in many ways," he said. "I have a big interest in it. Some people have told me I would make a good general manager some day."

He knows it won't be easy. He said he has spoken to fellow Hispanic players who have similar aspirations.

"I think we (Hispanics) are getting more and more opportunities every day," Baerga said. "Look at Omar Minaya (general manager of the Montreal Expos).

"If you give 100 percent in everything you do, on the field and off, most of the time, something good is going to happen.

"We don't have all the answers. But we have a lot of good ideas. We have been playing the game a long time. It's a matter of learning, learning from the people who are already there and learning from each other."

Baerga has taken young Diamondbacks infielder Alex Cintron, a fellow Puerto Rican, under his wing. Baerga said he enjoys being a mentor to the young Hispanic players.

Fellow Puerto Rican players Roberto Alomar, Carlos Delgado and Bernie Williams and the Dominican Republic's Pedro Martinez also can increase the Hispanic profile in the game, now and in the future, he said.

"It's not just how they play the game," Baerga said. "It's how they tell a story, teach and care about people."

Lopez's Return A Derby Win Itself

By John Mullin, Tribune staff reporter

July 15, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Chicago Tribune. All rights reserved.

Javy Lopez wasn't in this year's All-Star Home Run Derby. No matter. He has already won one, and that one was a really big deal.

The Atlanta Braves' catcher was 11, among the all-stars on a team in his home town, Ponce, Puerto Rico. He was up against 12-year-olds and already had missed winning the throw-to-second contest, where Little Leaguers peg the ball from home plate toward a trash can set at second base. The winner was the one who hit the can the most times.

And Major League Baseball thinks home-field advantage in the World Series is an attractive All-Star game target . . .

"I hit it a few times but didn't win," Lopez remembered with a laugh. "I did win the home run contest, though.

"It was a special game with all those uniforms out there and the crowd was a lot larger than normal, so it was exciting."

Lopez, 32, is appearing in this third major league All-Star Game, and this one has special meaning. He endured his worst season in the majors last year, struggling to a .233 average in just 109 games. There were whispers that Lopez was done, past a prime that had been marked by long years playing the most grueling position in baseball. Lopez suffered a partially torn left anterior cruciate ligament in 1999, the worst possible injury at a position that demands almost indestructible knees.

But after undergoing a rigorous off-season conditioning program to lose weight and redefine himself physically, he has returned to form this season.

"I just eat a regular breakfast, and I stopped eating red meat and no carbohydrates after a certain time, never at night," Lopez said. "And I started doing speed training three times a week. I lost a lot of weight just doing that because it's about an hour and a half of almost all running."

The trimmed-down Lopez enters the All-Star break hitting .307 with 23 home runs and 52 RBIs. Only in 1998 (34) and 2000 (24) has he hit more homers in a season. And the effects of his physical makeover have made him a better catcher, as well.

"I think he's being more selective at the plate," said pitcher Greg Maddux, a teammate since 1993. "Defensively, he's just as good now as he was five years ago. He probably calls a better game than he used to. Mentally, he's content with who he is and why he's doing things."

But if Lopez has slowed the sands of time, he knows they never fully stop. His contract is up after this season and he acknowledges some uncertainty about the future with the cost-conscious Braves. Rather than pay proven starter Kevin Millwood, they traded him to the Phillies for a catching prospect, Johnny Estrada. And they declined to re-sign Tom Glavine.

"I don't know what's going to happen, if the Braves will pick me up," Lopez said. "But just the fact of me having a good year is really helping me, showing people I can play baseball for a lot more years and I can have a job for next year, somewhere."

What that job will be also may be subject to change. Like a number of catching greats, Lopez would like to have the chance to extend his career with a position change.

"Later in my career I would like to play another position just because I would like to play a little longer in the big leagues," Lopez said. "I will play as long as I can as a catcher, but sometimes [catching] is getting hard, especially in the summer and the hot weather when you're beat up. You can't put up the numbers you want because you're exhausted because of the heat, the equipment, squatting, up and down every day.

"I would like to play first base. That would be perfect, the position that's most similar to catcher. You're always involved in the play in the infield."

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