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VAN DYCK notes: Finally, a feel-good baseball story

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foxsports admin

 
   
 
Today, amid the clutter caused by low attendance and high salaries, out-of-shape players and in-your-face negotiations, we offer up a feel-good story. If Jason Simontacchi's years-long, worldwide journey to the major leagues doesn't renew your faith in humanity and the national pastime, then you've been watching too many Tampa Bay games. At age 28, he is making his major league debut because of injuries to the St. Louis pitching staff. Not bad for a guy who:
  • Has been released by pitching-thin Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Minnesota;
  • Played for a club team in Australia and an Independent League team in Springfield, Ill.;
  • Pitched in the Italian professional league (bet you didn't know one existed, huh?) and then for the Italian Olympic team in the 2000 games, his tie to Italy having had a great-grandparent as a resident once;
  • Had never even been on a major league 40-man protected roster until he made the bigs; And he's 1-0 in two starts, with a 3.00 ERA, living start-to-start and on borrowed time? You bet.
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  • The obvious question for Simontacchi is "why," as in why would someone who had never pitched above Class A ball until last year keep going when it was obvious that no one wanted him after six years? "I believe I hadn't peaked as a pitcher," he said. "My parents were very supportive and said I could live with them as long as I was in school or playing baseball." But this would have been his final year of trying, because he has a girl friend and needed more than the $2,200-a-month he was making in minor leagues. He will make more money this season ($200,000) if he stays with the Cardinals than he has in his entire minor league career. "I owed a lot of money on credit cards," he said. "Venezuela (winter ball) saved me and now this ..." Oh, yes, now this, an honest-to-goodness feel-good story about a kid who found God two years ago and now has found baseball heaven. If The Rookie hadn't been made, Simontacchi's story could go to the big screen. "I've seen Bull Durham millions of times," he said. "But I haven't seen The Rookie. Everybody tells me I should." And when he does, he will be the only one wondering what's so great about that story.

    Not-so-feel-good story

    We aren't quite sure what's sadder -- Pete Rose Jr. finally getting released from the Reds' minor league system at age 32, or Rose still trying to chase his dream at age 32. Anyhow, it appears that Rose's "career" is over, the result of a .229 average at Class AA Chattanooga and the new economy in baseball. You see, organizations reduced Double-A rosters to 23 this season and Chattanooga is carrying 12 pitchers. Poor Petey, chasing something that had become almost an obsession, with the help of the Reds' generosity. At age 32, his father already had more than half his record number of hits. Petey had two major league hits, in 14 at-bats during a brief gratuitous call-up by the Reds in 1997 (yes, he wore No. 14). It was never Petey's fault, really. I got to know him some one spring and he was a simple kid then, determined to a fault because he wanted so to please his father who was, in truth, never much of a father to him.

    Hurtin' for certain

    If you stop here much, you know that two things bug us: The abundance of injuries and the abundance of bad contracts. In last Thursday's Cubs-Brewers game at Wrigley Field, we counted five players who left the field with injuries. None was hit by a pitch, none involved in a collision and the weather was windy and cool. Go figure. Here's the rundown: Milwaukee starter Ben Sheets left with back spasms, suffered while running to first base in the seventh inning; Milwaukee outfielder Matt Stairs left in the sixth with a strained hamstring; Cub reliever Carlos Zambrano strained an elbow and was placed on the disabled list; Cub shortstop Alex Gonzalez tweaked a left hamstring; And outfielder Moises Alou also strained a left hamstring that caused him to miss the rest of the series. Of course, Alou has also missed chunks of playing time with strains in his side, back and calf muscles. Alou played in half of the Cubs' first 34 games -- after signing a three-year, $27-million free-agent contract in the off-season. Oh, in case you forgot, Alou replaced Rondell White as the Cubs' left fielder. White went off to Yankee Stadium for $10 million over two years and has actually played in most of the games, but is saddled with a .222 batting average.

    Is there hope?

    Labor negotiations remain bogged down until the contraction issue is resolved next month and a bleak picture is being painted by almost everyone. Is there a solution? Yes, says Milwaukee infielder Mark Loretta. And what does he know about it? Loretta is a long-time union rep, has sat in on hours and hours of negotiations and is a Northwestern grad, which makes him smarter than your average player. "I've said all along I'm cautiously optimistic," Loretta said. "They've been at the table pretty much every week. The object is to get a win-win deal done. "It's out there. It just takes patience." We only have a little more than three months before patience runs out and some decision has to be made by the Players Association on whether or not to strike before the playoffs.

    Around the bases

  • Are the Marlins for real? We are about to find out as they embark on a 14-game road trip that goes through Denver, San Francisco, Cincinnati and New York. The bad news: They've managed just one winning trip out of the 18 in their history that have involved at least 10 games.
  • There is hope? Last season, Oakland started 8-16 and recovered to win 102 games. So the Angels feel better about their 6-14 start (they won 14 of their next 16) and the Phillies about their 9-19 start (they have won seven of their last eight).
  • After starting the season 11-1, the Indians went 6-19; they are hitting .161 with the bases loaded.
  • California dreaming, indeed: After an 0-6 road trip, the White Sox are 1-14 there the last two years.
  • Texas attendance is down more than 21 percent this year. Normally that might call for unloading of salaries, but first you have to find someone another team would want for the price.
  • Giants' catcher Benito Santiago had the names of his four children tattooed on his biceps -- in Japanese characters. Don¿t ask.
  • Did you miss him? Before making a bullpen appearance Saturday, Detroit's Jose Lima hadn't pitched since April 21, (when he allowed eight runs). "I thought I might get lost going to the mound," Lima kidded a day later.
  • The Expos have tried Jose Canseco (released in spring), Andres Galarraga (on the DL with back problems) and now ... Wil Cordero? Why? Dave van Dyck can be reached at his e-mail address: dvandyck@foxsports.com.
  • Tagged: Angels, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Brewers, Yankees, Cubs, Reds, Nationals, Phillies, Cardinals, Giants, Marlins, Ben Sheets, Matt Stairs, Alex Gonzalez, Carlos Zambrano

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