Posted on: March 10, 2008 7:54 pm

Boone Times Again

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

Posted on: March 6, 2008 5:55 pm

Atlanta's short-timer

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Slugger Mark Teixeira's bat fits perfectly into Atlanta's lineup behind that of Chipper Jones, he's well-liked by his teammates, he seems to enjoy being an Atlanta Brave ... and yet, he's a free agent following the 2008 season and it isn't as if many Braves are working overtime recruiting him to sign an extension before his probable departure.

"I don't think there's any amount of convincing that can be done," Jones says. "Unfortunately, he's a true believer in Scott Boras' style, and that doesn't bode well for us."

Oh, right. Teixeira's agent is Boras, who consistently directs his clients toward the biggest payday.

"This is his first big payday, and I think he's going to get a lot of money," Jones says.

You don't have to be wearing Boras' loafers or Jones' cleats to figure that.

Teixeira won't elaborate on his personal feelings toward the Braves or on his early thoughts regarding his future.

"We'll talk at the end of the season, me and 30 teams," he says. "I'm just worried about getting this team to the playoffs."

Acquired from Texas last season after he had a falling out with Rangers manager Ron Washington, Teixeira hit in Atlanta just as he did in Texas. He thumped 17 homers and collected 56 RBIs in only 54 games with the Braves. Though Atlanta missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season, the Braves finished only five games behind Philadelphia as Teixeira bashed and made everyone around him better.

"I know having him hit in the lineup behind me last year was great," says Jones, who had 29 homers and 102 RBI in '07. "I'm looking forward to having him hit behind me against this year."

At the very least, even if Teixeira does follow the trail of another Boras client who once played here -- Andruw Jones, now playing center field for the Los Angeles Dodgers -- the Braves figure to benefit from having his bat in the lineup for six months rather than just two.

"I wish we had him for six years," manager Bobby Cox says.

Likes: If you missed it when I flagged it last summer following Teixeira's arrival in Atlanta, you've got to check out the classic tribute song two Auburn kids perform on YouTube. It is outstanding. ... Several Braves -- John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, Tim Hudson and Brian McCann among them -- who had stayed behind to practice sitting together in the clubhouse and yukking it up like high schoolers after the bus left for Winter Haven and a Grapefruit League game with the Indians the other morning before they were due on the field. ... Lakeland's Mario's Italian Restaurant. The place has been around so long that former Detroit general manager Jim Campbell and field manager Sparky Anderson regularly dined there back in the day. ... Main Street Creamery and Deli in Lakeland. A quaint old reminder of what things must have looked like in the days of soda fountains. ... Last trip today on the Polk Parkway. Not that I mind the Lakeland area, but the fourth day in a row of driving past this skunk that was smoked who-knows-when and lies there in all of its bloody glory on the side of the road, let's just say it's a daily sight I'm happy to no longer have to view. Doesn't the city or county get rid of those things here?

Dislikes: Pedro Martinez's start in Viera getting rained out Thursday night. It is coming down in buckets. ... Love XM radio, love this year's POTUS channel (acronym for President of the United States, it's all election news all the time, and the '70s channel never fails to crack me up. But I gotta come clean here, when the '70s channel played the Captain and Tennille's Muskrat Love today, I went with the iPod. My God, how did that song ever get written in the first place, let alone recorded?

Sunblock day? Warm -- upper 70s -- but cloudy and overcast all day. If you're looking for sun, the weather this week hasn't been a bargain.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"I sat alone in the dark one night
"Tuning in by remote
"I found a preacher who spoke of the light
"But there was brimstone in his throat
"He'd show me the way according to him
"In return for my personal check
"I flipped my channel back to CNN
"And I lit another cigarette"

-- Mary Chapin-Carpenter, I Take My Chances

Posted on: March 5, 2008 6:23 pm

Clemens and the Weiner-mobile

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- He may be a candidate for New York mayor in 2009, but Rep. Anthony Weiner should keep his mouth shut.

He wants the FBI to stop investigating Roger Clemens for perjury because the pitcher has been "shamed" enough?

Please. What about Barry Bonds? Hasn't he suffered enough, too? Let's halt that trial.

And Martha Stewart had been humiliated ... why didn't the Feds call things off before going to the mat with her?

I absolutely agree with Weiner on one thing: The FBI has -- or should have -- far more important things to do than spend its hours gumshoeing Clemens.

But here's the deal: Congress got itself into a position where it HAD to ask the Justice Dept. to investigate. Because indications are that Clemens told one bald-faced lie after another to Congress. Under oath. If Congress doesn't follow up, it's a neon invitation for anyone else appearing before Congress to lie.

Look, at this point, we've all got better things to do than continue investing our precious time on megalomaniacal athletes who stick steroids and human growth hormone into themselves. Congress has got a war, looming recession and health care issues to deal with, just for starters. The FBI has national security issues. You and I have cars to wash.

But once we started going down this path, there's no going back. Argue all you want over whether Congress should have held the hearing with Clemens and trainer Brian McNamee. It did.

Now, there is no choice.

Drop things with Clemens, and you're sending a very public signal that oaths are not to be taken seriously, and that Congress can be lied to.

Likes: A biopsy showing no new brain tumors for Yankees broadcaster Bobby Murcer. ... Dalton Cash Wedge, the name of Cleveland manager Eric Wedge's new son. Wedge is an avid Johnny Cash fan, thus Dalton's middle name. ... Houston catcher J.R. Towles' at-bat music last season at Double-A Corpus Christi, Alabama's If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You've Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band." or at least somebody to pitch behind Roy Oswalt, eh? ... Sunroofs. ... The Drive-By Truckers' Marry Me, with the classic lyric "Rock and roll means well but it can't help telling young boys lies". ... Atlanta manager Bobby Cox. Walking out of Atlanta's clubhouse toward the bus Wednesday morning, he called out to no one in particular, "All right boys, let's go get those Indians." Atlanta was shoving off toward Winter Haven for that afternoon's game.

Dislikes: Tuesday night's election returns coming in so late I was already in Z-land and didn't get them until Wednesday morning. These early morning spring training alarm clocks wreak havoc with late-night television viewing. I haven't seen Letterman, Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert in weeks (and yes, I know Stewart and Colbert are on earlier, too, but I miss those because life on the road means working late and then going out to eat more often than not, too.

Sunblock day? In the morning, yes, as temps soared into the 80s. But overcast skies took hold of Central Florida by Wednesday afternoon. Still, as the legendary Willie Horton was watching Detroit play Philadelphia in Lakeland, dozens of schools were closed because of more snow in Michigan, so nobody's complaining.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"I'm goin' to Dallas, see my pony run
"Goin' to Dallas, see my pony run
"I'm goin' to Dallas, just to see my pony run
"She wins every race and I can't see how it's done"

-- Lightnin’ Hopkins, Goin’ to Dallas to See My Pony Run

Posted on: March 4, 2008 4:53 pm

Detroit Rock City

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Michigan's 7.5 percent unemployment rate this winter is the highest in the country. Since 2006, more than 70,000 homes have been foreclosed in Detroit alone. And property values are down nearly 20 percent.

Yet after the Detroit Tigers traded for shortstop Edgar Renteria, third baseman Miguel Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis this winter, they sold so many season tickets that they eventually halted sales to make sure last year's season ticketholders didn't get shut out.

And, incredibly, when the Tigers put 2008 individual game tickets on sale Saturday, they sold 80,000 in the first two hours, 176,000 over the first eight hours and 192,000 by noon Sunday.
Baseball is back in Detroit, maybe just when folks needed it most.

And the Tigers themselves absolutely have noticed.

"It's one of the best sports towns I've ever been in," slugger Gary Sheffield says. "I didn't know that much about it. But they're the most passionate fans I've ever seen."

Center fielder Curtis Granderson, beginning his third full season with the Tigers, shakes his head in awe at the number of tickets that are flying off of the shelves for '08.

He knows it's because these Tigers are loaded, and he believes there's another reason, too.

"I think it's the fact that we play hard," he says. "It's a hard-working area, and I think people are like, 'Hey, I'm working hard, and I want to enjoy watching others work hard, too.'"

Whatever, as the auto industry sags, concern over job security grows and homes sit unsold, maybe Tigers rounding the bases will at least ease the suffering for some.

"I have no idea how many runs we scored last year," Granderson says, chuckling. "I know it was a lot.

"It's a good buzz for the city of Detroit. They want to be excited, and they should be."

Likes: There are few finer people in the game than Curtis Granderson. ... The paw prints in the carpet in the Tigers' Lakeland clubhouse. ... Thunderstorms, like the one that just rolled in following the Tigers-Astros game this afternoon over in Kissimmee. ... Even without Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, the Astros have as loose a clubhouse as you'll find. ... Watching election returns. ... The prospect of a couple of days at home this weekend before landing in Arizona and the Cactus League next week. ... Astros broadcaster Jim Deshaies. ... Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour on XM. And Dylan's Modern Times disc.

 Dislikes: Orlando traffic. ... Kissimmee traffic. ... Route 192.

Sunblock day? Not really. Warm, but very overcast. Dry, but thunderstorms expected later this afternoon and evening. Check that. The T-storms are here. It's dry no longer. I'm going to get absolutely soaked walking to my car.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"Have you seen the flags of freedom?
"What color are they now?
"Do you think that you believe in yours
"More than they do theirs somehow?

-- Neil Young, Flags of Freedom

Posted on: March 3, 2008 6:35 pm
Edited on: March 3, 2008 6:36 pm

No haven for the Indians

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- It isn't quite as emotional or historical as the Dodgers leaving Dodgertown in Vero Beach, but Cleveland is bidding adios to Florida at the conclusion of this spring as well.

The Indians, who haven't trained in Arizona since leaving Tucson following the spring of 1992, is joining Arizona's burgeoning roster and moving to Goodyear.

They've trained in Winter Haven for the past 16 springs, beginning in 1993.

"I'm excited for the franchise," general manager Mark Shapiro says. "Geographically, this place (Winter Haven) is fine for spring training, but the facility is substandard.

"From a leadership position, the last few years when we've come in here, I feel like I'm letting our guys down. They all know what else is out there."

And next spring, the Indians no longer will have to simply watch as others take advantage of modern facilities. The Indians' new joint will feature an 8,000 seat stadium and the usual bejeweled clubhouse amenities and training facilities that will keep pace with everyone else.

Though there's been much grumbling about Winter Haven -- a city with, horrors, no Starbucks coffee! -- it's got its own kind of charm and the setting for Chain of Lakes Park, right next to Lake Lulu, is very pretty. Lake Lulu houses several large alligators and, though I've never seen one during my stops there, the place is rife with stories. Many of those center around Gator, one of the chief field guys here, who has been known to catch alligators with his bare hands.

Not only that, veterans around here tell tales of Gator hiding baby alligators -- with their mouths taped shut -- inside the lockers of some of the young players. Kenny Lofton was one those kids who nearly jumped out of his skin years ago upon finding a real, live alligator stuffed into his locker.

Most of today's Indians don't seem too sorry to be leaving.

"Not at all," says pitcher C.C. Sabathia, a native of the San Francisco/Oakland bay area. "I'm looking forward to Arizona, and bringing a lot of my family down."

Likes: The corny p.a. announcements before Grapefruit League games in which the guy with the mike broadcasts the local game-time temperature, followed by the weather update for whatever Northern city we're talking about (Detroit, if you're in Lakeland; CLeveland, if you're in Winter Haven). Predictably, it never fails to elicit great whoops and catcalls. It shouldn't, either, given what these people are paying for their Snowbird trips and sunblock tabs. ... The Hank Steinbrenner-John Henry vociferous debate about Yankees Nation or Red Sox Nation. You might be burnt out on Yankees-Red Sox, but those two are entertaining. ... The jambalaya at Harry's in Lakeland. ... Hall of Famer Al Kaline in uniform each spring at Tigers camp.
Dislikes: Here's a prayer for Phillies coach Davey Lopes, who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and will take a leave of absence.

Sunblock day? Yes, the run of sunny and 80s continues. But alas, predictions of Tuesday thunderstorms.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"Tomorrow is the price for yesterday
"A million waves won't wash the truth away
"Someday you'll be ordered to explain
"No one gets to walk between the rain"

-- Bob Seger, No More

Posted on: March 2, 2008 5:54 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2008 5:55 pm

The Bensons: More Kris, less Anna this year?

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- While Kyle Lohse, Jeff Weaver, Freddy Garcia and a handful of other pitchers look for work, a guy you haven't heard much from in awhile is toiling in the background here and odds are he could become one of the bigger comeback stories of 2008.

Remember Kris Benson?

Sure you do.

First off, he's much quieter than his wife. Anna Benson never met a reporter she couldn't leave with a controversial quote, from the explicit interview she did with Penthouse magazine when Kris was still pitching in Pittsburgh to the sexy Santa outfit she wore to a charity appearance in New York that finally pushed the Mets to get Kris out of town.

For those more familiar with Anna than Kris, he's nothing like what you'd expect. He's quiet, intelligent and speaks in measured tones. He didn't pitch at all last season while recovering from shoulder surgery but early reports here in the Phillies camp are that he could help -- and, perhaps, sooner rather than later.

Kris estimates that he's only a week or two behind the other pitchers in camp, and Charley Kerfeld, special assistant to general manager Pat Gillick, has been impressed with what he's seen.

"I thought he looked great," Kerfeld says. "Usually after a surgery like that, the last thing to come back is command. And his command has been great.

"Now, it's a question of when his velocity comes back."

Kerfeld estimates that Benson could be ready to pitch for the Phillies by May 1.

That would be great with Benson, who can opt out of his contract March 25 if he isn't placed on the PHillies' major-league roster but says he's open to starting the season in the minors with the club if his shoulder isn't quite ready.

He's also throwing his curve again after junking it in New York at the suggestion of Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson. When he started to develop his slider, Benson says, his curve wasn't as effective anymore. Partly, it was because his then-weakening shoulder wouldn't allow him to throw the curve as hard has he needed to to get a sharp break on it.

"This spring, I'm trying to develop those two pitches together," Benson says.

Another year older at 33 and all the wiser following surgery, the right-hander is the latest in a long line of hurlers who have had to learn to pitch, rather than just throw.

Maybe one day soon, he can make more headlines than his wife.

Likes: Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven, with sparkling Lake Lulu in the background. This is it, though, as Cleveland is moving to Goodyear, Ariz., next spring. Last one out of Winter Haven, turn off the lights. ... I know Chain of Lakes gets knocked, but there's so much history here -- going back to when the Red Sox trained here -- and besides, how can you not like a press box in which a snake slithered over the computer keyboard of Indians beat man Paul Hoynes (Cleveland Plain Dealer) last spring? ... Kristin Laine's book American Band: Music, Dreams and Coming of Age in the Heartland. Very moving ending. ... From the Southern Cleaners' marquee on Lakeland's Florida St., this bit of wisdom: "The bigger the menu, the smaller the portions." ... Smoked sausage with red beans and rice at Harry's in Lakeland. ... The 134-pound burger they concocted at Mallie's Sports Grill and Bar in Southgate, Mich., last week. Glad to see folks are making constructive use of their time.

Dislikes: Can any driver in Florida use a turn signal? Please? ... So I'm working in the room Saturday night while watching Kansas-Kansas State, and ESPN goes out. I've got, like, 60-some channels in the hotel room, and every single one of them is working except ESPN. So that lasts about 15 minutes, and it finally comes on. Great. Then midway through the first half, it goes out again. Why couldn't, say, the Jewelry Channel have gone out? Or QVC? Or the Food Network. Lemme tell ya, life on the road is not easy. ... Aw, the end came too soon for the St. Mary Catholic Central Falcons, 69-52 losers to Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard in a Class C Michigan High School boys' basketball District tournament final.

Sunblock day? Gorgeous. Warm sun, bit of a breeze, temps around 80.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"Lookin' for somebody
Young enough to take it on
Clean up the corruption
And make the country strong

-- Neil Young, Lookin' for a Leader

Posted on: February 29, 2008 7:41 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2008 7:46 pm

Mets look at pitching possibilities

TAMPA, Fla. -- The New York Mets have discussed free agent starting pitcher Kyle Lohse and others internally, according to sources close to the Mets, and still may make a move to add starting pitching this spring.

Lohse remains the most attractive of a handful of starters who so far appear to have priced themselves out of business because he's only 29 and is coming off of a season in which he worked 192 innings and compiled a 4.62 ERA for Cincinnati and Philadelphia last season.

Among the other starters still unsigned: Jeff Weaver (31, 6.20 ERA for Seattle in '07), Freddy Garcia (32, coming off of shoulder surgery last August), Eric Milton (32, coming off of an injury-plagued year with Cincinnati) and David Wells (44, 157 innings pitched for San Diego and Los Angeles and a 5.12 ERA).

The Mets are said to be considering many options in the wake of acquiring ace Johan Santana, including beginning the season with Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez in the bullpen. The thinking there being that they could save him from wearing out by season's end if they limit his innings early, and maybe move him back into the rotation later in the year.

Among the other reasons the Mets continue to study free agent pitchers who are available: They're still not sure whether Mike Pelfrey (3-8, 5.57 ERA in 72 innings pitched last season) is seasoned enough for the big league rotation and though Pedro Martinez looks good this spring, he's no lock to stay healthy all season.

St. Louis is another club that could be in the market for pitching if Matt Clement's comeback lags. However, the Cardinals have indicated that their player payroll is maxed out. The Chicago Cubs also could be a player for Lohse or Weaver to add depth to a rotation that includes a couple of questions: One, whether Jason Marquis sticks all season and, two, whether Ryan Dempster's conversion from closer takes.

A couple of other notes:

-- The Florida Marlins have discussed adding oUtfielder Corey Patterson, a Scott Boras client like Lohse and Weaver, who remains unsigned. Cameron Maybin, one of the high-ceilinged prospects acquired from Detroit, is projected to start in center for the Marlins but there is some organizational concern that, at 20, and with only 49 big league at-bats, if he isn't ready, he could get buried. But it's more likely that the Marlins will go with Alejandro De Anza instead of Patterson. De Anza made the Marlins out of camp last spring but suffered a broken ankle after nine games and missed much of the rest of the season.

-- The Cubs-Baltimore Brian Roberts trade talks continue to simmer and the possibility remains that Roberts could be a Cub by opening day. Chicago scouts continue to track Roberts.

Likes: Gorgeous cover on the Pittsburgh media guide this year, an evening shot of PNC Park with lights reflecting off of the Allegheny River. ... Manny Sanguillen in camp, same winning smile. ... ELO's Mr. Blue Sky on the public address system before Friday's clash-of-Pennsylvania, Phillies-Pirates Grapefruit League game. ... This line from Alan Schwarz in a New York Times story on the Pirates: "... their roster's somnolence is marked by how their most recent signee, pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim, is a virtual narcoleptic." ... Mixon Fruit Farm in Bradenton, which has become a must-stop for lunch along the trails. The orange juice, as you might suspect, is out of this world, and so was the tropical milkshake featuring fresh oranges, pineapples and cherries.
Dislikes: Need more hours in the day. Even if we got an extra day this month thanks to leap year. Still not enough hours.

Sunblock day? We're getting there, with temps finally reaching the 70s. Still, it was in the 40s early Friday morning and a chilly breeze persisted for  most of the morning. We can only hope that the horror of this "cold-weather" snap is behind us now.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"I got shackles on my wrists
Soon I'll slip 'em and be gone
Chain me in a box in your river
And I'll rise singin' this song
Trust none of what you hear
And less of what you see
This is what will be"

-- Bruce Springsteen, Magic

Posted on: February 28, 2008 7:26 pm

The best kind of Little League dad

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- One of Roger Clemens' favorite self-deprecating lines is that he just doesn't do retirement very well, given all the times he's tried and failed.

But compared to Troy Percival, Clemens is an expert.

Percival signed a minor-league deal with the Angels last April specifically so he could retire as a member of the franchise with which he grew up.

That was two organizations, 40 innings pitched and three victories ago.

The guy arrived at Tampa Bay's camp at 6:15 a.m. Thursday.

"Anytime I can put the uniform on, I'm pretty happy," says Percival, 38. "It took me a couple of years to come to grips with retirement. I didn't think I had any choice. But once I knew I could play. ..."

It was -- and seems like it still is -- a total fluke.

Percival blew out with Detroit in 2005, tearing the flexor tendon in his elbow clear away from the bone -- and breaking off a half-a-fingernail-sized piece of bone with it.

He didn't have surgery because doctors basically told him the odds against it helping much far outweighed the odds that he could come back.

So two things happened.

Feeling horrible that he only made 26 appearances in '05 despite a two-year, $12 million contract, the always classy Percival purchased a luxury suite in Detroit's Comerica Park in '06 for the Tigers' wives to use.

Second thing that happened was, two years after playing what he thought was his final major-league game, Percival was coaching his son's Little League team in Southern California and was throwing easy batting practice from 40 feet to eight-year-olds.

He noticed that the pain had receded. One day while playing catch with one of his assistants, the assistant backed up further ... and further ... until Percival was winging the ball 150 feet, on a line.

Long story short, he had his agent ask some clubs to come out to watch him throw, nine clubs were interested and he wound up back in the majors last summer with St. Louis.

How did it all happen?

"By accident," Percival says.

The flexor tendon appears healed -- at least, healed enough to allow him to throw.

The piece of bone that broke off?

"It's still in there somewhere," Percival says. "I don't know where it is, but wherever it is, it's out of the way."

Tampa Bay pursued him this winter after he went 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 34 games for Tony La Russa's Cardinals last summer, and the Rays intend for Percival to be their closer in 2008.

And coaching nine-year-old Cole's Little League team?

"I actually miss that as much as anything," Percival says. "I had a lot of fun with it."

Likes: No, Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria is not related to Desperate Housewives' star Eva Longoria. And don't ask him again. ... Here's to Mark DeRosa's continued good health after the Cubs infielder underwent a heart procedure Thursday in Chicago. ... Finally, some hope in Tampa Bay. ... Players union boss Don Fehr actually saying that the union would consider blood testing for human growth hormone if a legitimate test is developed. Among others Derek Jeter has said he would support it. And good for him. ... Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central whipping Romulus Summit Academy 68-37 in a Michigan boys' basketball district game Wednesday night. Next up for the mighty Falcons is Gabriel Richard in Friday night's district championship game.

Dislikes: Time was, back in the early 2000s, that Scott Spiezio was such a popular player within the game that the Angels would look forward to his arrival in the clubhouse each afternoon. He was personable, funny, the kind of guy everybody loved having around. I just hope his release by the Cardinals this week after police issued a six-count warrant for his arrest following a December traffic accident is the bottom for Spiezio, and that he can start to get his life back together from there. He's battled alcohol and drug issues and become a mess.

Sunblock day? Don't even ask. Temperature reading in the car was 44 degrees at 7:30 this morning as I was driving toward Tampa Bay's camp. The sun did come out and stay out for most of the day, but it came with a chilly breeze that wouldn't quit. Jacket required, all day. The security guard at the Rays' complex this morning was wearing ear muffs. At spring training.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"George is in the jungle
Knockin' on the door
Come to get your children
Wants to have a war

"Come on, lord you'd better run,
Be a long dark night before this thing is done

"Brownie's in the outhouse
Katrina on the line
Government's a disaster
But George, he says it's fine"

-- John Fogerty, Long Dark Night

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or