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St. Paul Pioneer Press

There's More To Rios Than Link To BALCO


11 March 2005
Copyright © 2005 St. Paul Pioneer Press. All rights reserved.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Armando Rios has a degree in advertising from Louisiana State, where he also minored in psychology and accounting. He has taken real-estate courses and is dabbling in investment properties. He is a home-improvement whiz and recently replaced the floor in his bedroom all by himself.

Let's see, what else?

"I work with wood, electricity. I love to build things."

Anything musical?

"I'm learning to play the guitar," he noted.

Now if he can just deliver the occasional pinch-hit single, he'll be all set.

Armando Rios is an interesting fellow. It's just that no one ever finds out. About the only question he ever gets is: What's the deal with the steroids?

Rios was implicated in the BALCO mess. According to a memo from a federal agent obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, Rios told the agent he purchased testosterone and human growth hormone from Barry Bonds' now-infamous trainer.

Rios repeatedly has said he bought only vitamins and takes offense at the whole story.

"There's nothing I was accused of or indicted over," Rios told the Pioneer Press earlier this winter. "There's really nothing there."

And that's where most conversations usually begin and end.

Peeking beyond that, however, we see someone who played baseball in three countries last year. His mail still hasn't caught up with him. And we see someone who nearly quit the game last spring before rekindling his baseball passion on a field in Tijuana, Mexico.

"Last year was unbelievable," he said before the Twins' exhibition game against Philadelphia. "Florida, Mexico, Ottawa, Memphis... I was a little bit in a lot of places. I never traveled like that.

"I'm a home guy. I love being at home with the kids. I don't want what happened last year again."

Rios, 33, has a chance to earn a spot with the Twins. He can play all three outfield positions and first base. More important, he is a left-handed bat off the bench.

"I can compete," he said. "You need me every day? I can do it. You need a pinch hitter? I can do it. I'm happy and will accept my role. I can't wait. I can't wait to pinch hit and win the game for them.

"I have my passion back. Whatever happens, great. I'm happy to be a part of major league baseball."

Flash back to a year ago and the Florida Marlins' camp. Rios, who lives 10 minutes from Pro Player Stadium in Miami, thought he had found the perfect situation. He envisioned returning to his wife and children after every home game.

"When I signed with Florida, it was to be the fourth outfielder," he said. "It was a big chance. But when spring training started, I saw I didn't have a chance. I didn't start one game.

"Sometimes you get a little proud. I didn't want to go to triple A."

Instead, he signed up with Tijuana of the Mexican League, hoping someone – maybe even a Japanese team – would see him. A native of Puerto Rico, Rios says he wanted other teams to see that he was healthy. For the first time since he underwent surgery for a torn ligament in 2001, his left knee felt fine.

And he was having fun again, hitting .350 and playing every day.

The Orioles saw him, signed him and sent him to Class AAA Ottawa. This time, he was happy to go. Baltimore traded him to the Cardinals, who sent him to Class AAA Memphis. St. Louis released him in late August.

Rios then went to Puerto Rico to play winter ball, feeling sure that another team would make him an offer over the winter.

Enter the Twins, always looking for a bargain.

"The Twins have been straight up with me," he said. "They said they have an outfield spot open. They want to have a lefty off the bench. An outfielder, a lefty, I'm that!"

"That's the look we're wanting," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's put some good swings on the ball. He knows how to hit, how to play. He's been around a little bit."

There is competition for that job, of course. Rios is OK with that because, he says, he is getting a fair shake. He wants to play a few more years before moving on to a career in real estate. Or maybe something else. He has so many interests. Along the way, he has invested his baseball money wisely.

"A couple more years, and I won't need to work that hard," he said. "We'll be comfortable. I have never made the big stars' money. But we have what we need. God has always blessed us and given us what we need.

"I was a nerd growing up. I went to college, and now I'm here doing my thing. I don't feel like a nerd anymore. Baseball has been a blessing to me."

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