"Slap shots and skating," Stairs told The Toronto Globe and Mail. "I picked up a ball today. I had to sign an autograph. That was the first time."
02/22/2008 3:32 PM ET
Hockey season ends for Matt Stairs
Canadian coached hockey in Maine during winter
The native Canadian was in a good mood during his first workout, even if it meant he had less time to devote to hockey, a passion of his. During batting practice, he didn't waste time making fun of his teammates.
"That's an Overbay swing," Stairs said with a grin as he chopped a harmless high hopper down the right side of the infield, a playful knock against first baseman Lyle Overbay.
During the offseason in Bangor, Maine, Stairs is the assistant hockey coach at John Bapst Memorial High School. The team went 14-5-1 and made the state finals for the first time. Stairs is already trying to angle for a day off on March 9 when the Blue Jays are scheduled to play Philadelphia in Clearwater, Fla.
"Don't say I won't be there," Stairs said. "One never knows."
After the heart procedures, soreness no problem for Brocail: In 2006, Doug Brocail was feeling disoriented while participating in running drills during Spring Training with San Diego. Encouraged to go to a cardio care center, Brocail learned that his left anterior descending coronary artery, which supplies blood to the left ventricle and front wall of the heart, was 99 percent blocked. He underwent an angioplasty and had a stent inserted in the artery. One month later, Brocail underwent a similar procedure to have three more stents inserted.
"I didn't fully grasp the fact that I beat the widow-maker," Brocail told the Houston Chronicle in reference to the nickname of the artery that was blocked. "The doctor explained that usually when they find the widow-maker, it's in an autopsy. Now I've got clean pipes, and here I am."
In addition to battling the heart condition, Brocail also has had Tommy John surgery twice during his career. Yet the 40-year-old right-hander is coming off a 5-1 season with the Padres (3.05 ERA in 67 games). Signed by the Houston Astros during the offseason, he is expected to fill the role of setup man.
"I'm impressed, and I think anybody who knows the particulars would be impressed," manager Cecil Cooper said. "Most guys who've had stuff like that, this is not their profession. They might be sitting behind a desk, but here this guy is pitching and being competitive, and he's had a lot of success."
While Brocail is able to pitch well, he is reminded about his health every day as he takes 26 pills per day.
"They're not all prescriptions, but that includes my aspirin and prescription fish oils, which is all cholesterol-based and heart-based," Brocail said. "Everything I take is cholesterol- and heart-based. The only struggles I have are from taking statin drugs. So my large muscle groups throughout the day stay a little bit sore, but I can live with that."
Gonzalez has eyes set on 500 home runs, 400 doubles: Just because Juan Gonzalez has been away from the game for a few years doesn't mean he's finished. As a matter of fact, if early spring cuts are any indication, Gonzalez -- who is in camp with the St. Louis Cardinals -- may be quite a story in 2008.
With 388 career doubles and 344 career home runs, Gonzalez says he feels like he can still be a productive Major League player.
"Because you have goals in your mind, you're trying to come back to finish your goals," Gonzalez told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I'm close to 500 home runs and 400 doubles. It's the goals. When you have goals in your mind, you try inside your heart to try again and see what happens."
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, after watching Gonzalez take some swings earlier this week, is definitely paying attention.
"I saw Juan, the Juan that terrorized the American League," said La Russa. "He's got a spot that could be very helpful to us if he's got his game together, and I've been told that he does, so we'll see."
Gonzalez says he's just glad to have this opportunity.
"I feel like a rookie invited to big-league camp after two years out of the game," he said. "I'm coming back for a big challenge. This is opening the door for myself."
Fuld hopes to build on late callup, fall MVP award: Sam Fuld knows that he's not guaranteed anything this spring. But after a relatively successful - albeit brief - stint with the Cubs last fall, Fuld knows that anything is possible as he competes with Felix Pie for the Cubs' starting center field job.
"It's certainly a different position for me as opposed to the last few years," he told The Chicago Sun-Times.
As he prepared to play in the Triple-A postseason, Fuld was unexpectedly called up to join the Cubs.
"It was very shocking when I got that call," he said. "I had a lot of good fortune last year, and oftentimes that's what it takes. There're so many breaks that can go either way. If you persevere, you're bound to have some bounces go your way."
Following the Cubs' season, Fuld batted .402 with a .492 on-base percentage in the Arizona Fall League -- good enough to win the league's MVP Award.
"He's the type of kid that doesn't catch your eye in one day, but the more you watch him and the more you look at his particular skills, he impresses you," said manager Lou Piniella. "He's an athlete. He's got really good actions in the outfield. And then he plays a small man's game with the bat, which is what he should do -- hits the ball all over, puts it in play, keeps it on the ground.
Gathright's goal? Steal a lot of bases: For Joey Gathright, the opportunity to earn more playing time in 2008 will be directly proportional to one thing -- how many bases he steals. Last year, he says, then-manager Buddy Bell didn't give him cart blanche when it came to stealing bases.
"It's just difficult to do things if you don't have the green light," Gathright told the Kansas City Star. "If you look at my numbers in Triple-A and my numbers in the big leagues, you'll see a big difference."
In Triple-A, Gathright stole 25 bases in 33 attempts.
"If I had stolen 30 bases last year," he said, "I don't think I'd be having too many conversations about where I would be playing. But I did not. Therefore, my main goal this year is to do what I did last year plus steal a lot of bases."
Chacon gets chance to start with Astros: The Houston Astros may have found a needed starter for this season by signing Shawn Chacon to a one-year contract. Chacon arrived in Astros camp on Wednesday and had his first workout with the club Thursday. Chacon had offers from other teams for more money, but the chance to be a starter swayed him to sign with the Astros.
"My main thing," Chacon told The Houston Chronicle, "was wanting to start. And I'm getting an opportunity here."
Chacon has been a reliever and starter during his career. He was an All-Star for Colorado in 2003 and finished the season 11-8 with a 4.60 ERA. Last season, he appeared in 64 games for Pittsburgh, 60 of which were as a reliever, going 5-4 with a 3.94 ERA. For his career, he is 43-58 with 36 saves and a 4.98 ERA over seven seasons.
"He'll get a chance to show he deserves to be one of the five [starters]," general manager Ed Wade said of Chacon. "If that doesn't work out, then he's a solid bullpen guy for us.
"Here we are on Feb. 20, and there's still a healthy, solid arm available. It was too attractive for us to walk past."
Snyder aims to take the next step as a leader: Chris Snyder wasn't supposed to be the Arizona catcher by now. Not with the club expecting Miguel Montero to claim the starting job. But as Spring Training begins, Snyder is now viewed as not just a starter but also a possible leader in the clubhouse. By the end of last year, he was starting four out of every five games. Though known more for his defensive skills, he hit .292 with a .386 on-base and .503 slugging percentages over the final three months of the season.
"Toward the end of last season, I had a good approach," Snyder told The Arizona Republic, "and I'm looking forward to having a full season of that approach and seeing where that puts me."
Snyder hit only .202 in 326 at-bats in 2005 and got off to a slow start at the plate last season. He says his struggles at the plate were due to trying to hit to the opposite field at the behest of former hitting coach Kevin Seitzer.
"He was probably one of the hardest-working coaches I've ever been around," Snyder said. " But it just wasn't the approach I wanted to take. I wanted to utilize my size (6-foot-3, 220 pounds), start getting the head out and hit the ball hard no matter where I hit it."
Elbow no longer a pain for Estes: Shawn Estes was happy to be able to pitch last season, but it was a painful experience for him.
"When I pitched last year, it felt like somebody took a nail gun and shot a nail into my elbow," Estes told The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The pain Estes was experiencing was due to his recovery from reconstructive elbow surgery, recovery from which can take up to two years. But once fully healed, it is not uncommon for pitchers to say their arm is stronger than before a transplanted ligament or tendon was woven into the joint.
Estes, who had surgery on his elbow in June 2006, appears to be fully healed from the procedure. He is throwing off the mound every other day, the same procedure the other San Diego pitchers are following.
A's to make a starter of Duchscherer: The Athletics plan to move Justin Duchscherer into the starting rotation in 2008. He has been one of the top middle relievers in the game, and even made the All-Star team in that role in 2005. But he looks forward to the chance to become a starter and thinks it will be good for his body physically.
"Duke is going to gain a lot of weight this year," closer Huston Street told The San Francisco Chronicle. "No more third-, fifth- and seventh-inning trips to the bathroom. But it's not because he's nervous, it's because he takes it so seriously. Justin shows up at 2 p.m. and he's thinking about pitching all day."
Duschscherer is coming off hip surgery but believes that a move to the rotation will not hinder that recovery.
"I think it will be great," Duchscherer said. "I think it will be a real benefit health-wise, pitching every five days and being able to plan my workouts and my treatment.
"It's not like I didn't enjoy my time in the bullpen, but I trained for seven years in the Minors to be a starter and it's hard to go from that to having to be ready every day. I did the best I could, but it's hard. You might pitch, you might not. The worst part is not knowing."
Morse's versatility on display with Mariners: Super sub Mike Morse finds himself again in a battle to make the Mariners out of Spring Training. He is competing with Jeremy Reed and Wladimir Balentien for a spot as an outfield reserve. But Morse has the added advantage of being able to play the infield as well as an outfield corner position.
"I think I bring a lot to the table," Morse told The Seattle Times. "And I think there's some team out there that would want a player like me."
Morse has been riding the shuttle back and forth between the Majors and Triple-A but feels that experience has made him a better ballplayer.
"This is the most excited I've ever been for a Spring Training," Morse said. "I think it's because I've grown up. I've been through a lot, going up and down, up and down. I've been to Triple-A. A couple of friends -- ex-players -- told me it's a tough road, that I could get sent down, and they told me, 'Don't feel bad about yourself or anything -- just keep fighting.'"
Morse is out of options, meaning he cannot be sent to the Minors without exposing him to other teams first. Because of his versatility, it is almost a certainty that another team would claim him if given a chance.
Anderson primed for improvement in 2008: It wasn't that long ago -- just a couple of years -- that Brian Anderson seemed to have a bright future with the White Sox and in the league. Now, though, he heads into the 2008 season unsure exactly what role he'll play.
"I really do think I was ready," Anderson told the Chicago Sun-Times, looking back on what went wrong in 2006. "Hitting-wise, I probably believed that mechanically I was a lot better than I actually was, but mentally, I was definitely ready.
"I don't think anyone plans on doing as bad as I did the first half, and I don't think you can ever really prepare for that. Anyone that does that bad for that long -- I don't think anyone would have an answer on how to get out of that."
White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen is noncommittal when it comes to what role Anderson might play but says he has never doubted his ability.
"He's going to be out there," said Guillen. "We never doubted Brian could play in this league."
-- Red Line Editorial