07/14/2003 6:01 PM ET
Lopez's perseverance pays off
CHICAGO -- As Javy Lopez finished batting practice during the first week of Spring Training this year, a group of teenage girls screamed his name in the same reverent manner that their mothers might have after seeing The Beatles.
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Lopez waved his hand to express his gratitude for the loyalty these young women were displaying. But at the same time, was wondering if these women would ever get the chance to see him in a Braves uniform ever again.
After hitting an abysmal .233 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs last year, Lopez was fortunate to have a player option in his contract that allowed him to return to the Braves this year and collect $7 million. Without that option, he would have been seeking a new employer during this past offseason and collecting a far less envious salary.
Throughout Spring Training, he persevered while knowing in the back of his mind that the Braves would like to trade him and free themselves of the financial responsibility they had for a player, who over the first half of this season has gone from washed up has-been to All-Star once again.
"I never questioned my ability," Lopez said. "Watching Benito Santiago last year making the All-Star Game after not going for 10 years, made me realize I could come back. I knew if he could do it, I could too. I just always thought positive and never let myself give up."
Lopez reported to Spring Training weighing 30 pounds lighter than he did last year and displaying a new sense of confidence that has enabled him to hit .307 with 23 homers and 52 RBIs. He once again looks like the offensive force he was while being named to his only other All-Star Games in 1997 and '98.
"I really don't know what to tell you," Lopez said. "All I know is that I'm feeling really good about myself and want this to continue throughout my career, wherever I play."
Had Lopez been forced to go elsewhere during the offseason, Braves fans would have been denied the opportunity to fully enjoy what might be baseball's comeback story of the year. He already has six multihomer games, including one in his native Puerto Rico.
"Javy has always been able to swing the bat," Gary Sheffield said. "He's one guy who you always feared as an opponent when he came to the plate. He's showing this year that he still has something to prove."
Lopez's perseverance and production will be awarded when he assumes his role as the National League's starting catcher in Tuesday night's All-Star Game at U.S. Cellular Field. This is the first time fans have ever elected him to start the Midsummer Classic.
"When I go out there to play, I'm going out there to win," Lopez said. "All of us who go out there to play in an All-Star Game, go out to do our best for the fans."
Lopez and Sheffield are joined on this year's National League squad by fellow Braves Russ Ortiz, John Smoltz, Rafael Furcal, Andruw Jones and Marcus Giles, who is unable to play because of a concussion he suffered on Friday.
"It's great to be able to enjoy the All-Star Game anytime," Lopez said. "But it's especially nice to be able to do it with a lot of your teammates."
Lopez is just happy that he still has the opportunity to call these fellow Braves his teammates.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.