07/11/2004 5:32 PM ET
Notes: Fernando eyes comeback
Morneau, Francis hope to represent Canada in Athens
By Jesse Sanchez and Jason Beck / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Fernando Valenzuela has fond memories of the Bayou City as a player and leapt at the chance to return to one of his favorite parts of the country, this time as manager of the World team for the 2004 Futures Game.
|World Team manager Fernando Valenzuela (left) poses with USA skipper Goose Gossage before Sunday's Futures Game. (Daria DeBuono/MLB.com)
"It's great to be here, but it's very strange in a way, because I have never been a part of anything like this," he said. "But this is an honor to be here and to be with all the players of the future. I think this is a good opportunity to showcase their talent in the sport and have some fun. I am new to this, so I don't know all the players and their histories, but you can tell they are talented and this is an exciting event."
As a player, Valenzuela climbed through the minor league ranks at a rapid pace and made his big-league debut in relief against Atlanta on Sept. 15, 1980, at the age of 19. He went on to pitch 10 times down the playoff stretch -- including three times against the Astros -- and finished with a 0.00 ERA in 17 2/3 innings.
In 1981, he pitched Opening Day -- against Houston -- to start Fernandomania.
He retired from the Major Leagues in 1997 after 17 seasons, posting a career record of 173-153 with a 3.54 ERA. He joined Jaime Jarrin and Pepe Yniguez as a Spanish broadcaster for the Dodgers last season, and is considering a comeback in the Mexican League.
"The truth is, I would like to play again," he said. "But I have to get in shape and make sure I am physically fit. I have talked about it, but nothing is for sure. It would be fun. I love baseball and playing this game. We will see what happens."
Oh, Canada: On a World team that boasts players from seven different countries, Jeff Francis found a familiar face in the World clubhouse with fellow Vancouver-area native Justin Morneau. Beyond being teammates in youth ball, they both have a chance to be Olympians when Team Canada sets its roster for the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.
At this point, the only question with Morneau is whether he'd be eligible. If the Twins call him back up to the Majors this summer, he'll be in a pennant race instead of a medals chase. Even if he's a strong possibility as a late-season callup, or a replacement if the Twins make a trade at the deadline, the Twins might protect him from selection.
He's hoping to get the chance to represent his country.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Morneau said. "The chances of us being in the Olympics again aren't great."
That's not to say that he -- or Francis, for that matter -- thinks the Canadians should be longshots, even when facing a Japanese team that could have ample experience.
"We kind of got in there when the U.S. lost to Mexico [in a qualifying tournament last November]," said Francis, whose chances of playing for Team Canada would appear to be solid. "I don't think we're an underdog. I think we have as good a chance as everybody else. The way they hit the ball, we have an opportunity."
Far East equals: Shin-soo Choo is from Korea, not Japan. As a Mariners outfield prospect, however, he knows the comparisons to Ichiro Suzuki are a little easier to make.
In his case, however, it's not just nationality. They not only share the same multi-tool talent, but the same mind-set as well. He's also worn Ichiro's famed jersey No. 51 in the past.
"I think average first," Choo said, "not just home runs. I try for a high average and stolen bases, then home runs."
Choo also played in the 2002 Futures Game in Milwaukee.
He didn't get much of a chance to show his strong arm Sunday, but a key throw helped make partial amends for a costly error. He couldn't track down B.J. Upton's two-out fly ball in the third inning. Two runs scored on the play, but Choo's throw back to the infield helped catch Upton -- who strayed too far off the bag -- to record the third out.
All four USA runs, in fact, were unearned. An Andy Marte fielding error with no outs in the fifth helped set up a pair of runs for a 4-0 deficit. Otherwise, World pitchers combined for six scoreless innings with no walks and eight strikeouts.
Jason Beck and Jesse Sanchez are reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.