VIERA, Fla. -- He hadn't seen live pitching in two years before this spring, hasn't seen a breaking ball in what seems like forever and Bret Boone calls his current comeback at 38 "the hardest thing I've ever done."
But here he is, competing with Ronnie Belliard for the second base job in the Washington Nationals camp. He's got no guarantees and no promises. He looks smaller than in his 37-homer, 141-RBI season of 2001, though he's still cut.
He left the game suddenly two springs ago, walking out on the New York Mets with a secret: Alcohol, he says, was tearing him apart. He'd have 12 to 15 beers after a game, looking for the fix off the field that the game once gave to him on it.
He got the "bug" to come back five or six months ago, he says, once he felt his life was back under control. Having had experience with GM Jim Bowden in Cincinnati, he phoned the Nationals because he knew Bowden isn't adverse to giving a guy who needs a bounce a chance.
Come on in, Bowden told him. And so here Bret is, with his brother, third baseman Aaron Boone, and his father, special assistant to the GM Bob Boone, making this Nationals camp a family affair.
"I've got nothing to lose," Bret says. "I've already had my career, ya know?"
The final push that caused him to do this came a few months back when he was messing around with some buddies in a batting cage near his Southern California home. He hit four or five times, the pitching machine cranked up to high, and the bat speed was still evident.
"I'm not looking to hang on and be an average player," says Boone, who turns 39 in early April. "I'm not saying I have to be among the elite of the game, but I've got to be toward the top players of my position.
"If not, I won't hang around."
Likes: Baseball Prospectus 2008 is out now, and if you haven't checked it out, you should head toward your local Barnes & Noble right now. Tremendous dope on all 30 teams and more than 1,600 players. Essential stuff for the season, whether you're an avid Fantasy player or simply a voracious fan. ... Spring phenoms like 19-year-old lefty Clayton Kershaw forcing their way into the Dodgers' plans. ... My wife liked Gone Baby Gone, which we caught up with on DVD over the weekend, better than I did. I didn't dislike it, but I wanted to like it more than I did. It didn't help that Casey Affleck mumbles his way through the entire movie.
Dislikes: Airports, security lines, cattle-call boarding and no liquids through the security lines. The best way to make money in this sluggish economy has to be running a Starbucks, gift shop or food stand on The Other Side of the airport security lines. With no liquids allowed through, and with planes having long ago stopped providing any semblance of food, you're a captive audience to those airport shops. It's a license to print money.
Sunblock day? Just landed in Phoenix a couple of hours ago, and it's hot and sunny in the desert. Right around 80, as it should be for the rest of the spring. Good to be stocked up on sunblock.
Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:
"Racism lives in the U.S.A
"Get hip to what Martin Luther King had to say
"I don't want my kids being brought up this way
"Hatred to each other is not okay"
-- John Mellencamp, Peaceful World