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03/07/07 9:18 PM ET
LeCroy enjoying second stop with Twins
Former top pick returns after season with Nationals
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When Matthew LeCroy arrived at Twins camp this spring after having been gone from the club a year, there was something noticeably different about him.
No, it wasn't a changed physique or a new batting stance that LeCroy, 31, sported upon his return but rather a new, jet-black hair color that he also donned on his goatee.
And ever the charismatic salesman, LeCroy used Twins general manager Terry Ryan as his reasoning for the change.
LeCroy's early graying may be a source of laughs for him but it certainly is telling of the journey the player has gone through to get to this point in his career -- back with the Twins on a Minor League contract.
It hasn't been an easy road for the man who was a first-round draft pick of the Twins back in 1997. Pegged as the designated hitter of the future for the Twins, LeCroy saw a lot of hopes placed upon him only to see them fall away with disappointment when his career didn't go quite like many hoped. In fact, LeCroy has gone through enough struggles that likely would leave most anyone else bitter. But instead, LeCroy appears to look at his career like he does his life -- with a happy-go-lucky attitude.
A perfect example of that came last season when LeCroy was a third string catcher with the Nationals. LeCroy ended up in the national spotlight after one tear-filled press conference held by the team's manager at the time, Frank Robinson. It came after Robinson pulled LeCroy in the middle of an inning, a rare occurence, during a game against the Astros. LeCroy had allowed seven stolen bases during the inning and things quickly were going down-hill in the game so Robinson made the somewhat controversial move.
But while his manager cried, LeCroy took the event in stride.
"It bothered him a little bit but he's not the guy that's going to dwell on the negative," said Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer, one of LeCroy's best friends. "He's the type of guy that's going to push through and always look for the positive in any situation."
Anyone would be hard pressed to find a player in the Twins clubhouse now that sees positives easier than LeCroy. A player who often sings in front of his locker and makes jokes about his less than svelte figure to lighten the mood of the ballclub, LeCroy is someone who is beloved within any clubhouse he resides. And it's one of the reasons that the Twins didn't take long to sign him when they discovered during a phone call with his agent regarding another player, that LeCroy was still available.
Having the chance to be back where he had spent the majority of his career was a jump that LeCroy didn't have to think long about. He'll admit that the clubhouse has changed a bit since he left a little over a year ago but there are still plenty of his old friends around that make this place still feel like home.
"I didn't know most of the pitchers when I walked in but all the position guys were all guys I knew well," LeCroy said. "It's just exciting to get an opportunity to come back and have a chance to make the club."
But doing that won't be an easy task, either.
LeCroy is hitting just .167 a week into spring and is, self-admittedly, a long shot to make the club. He knows that he will have to show the Twins that he still maintains some life in his bat to even have an opportunity in a tight race for one of the club's limited bench openings.
Still, there are quite a few people in the organization rooting for him.
"I think as far as a baseball guy you'd like to have in your organization, he's all that you'd want on your club," Ryan said. "But productivity is the bottom line in this game. I just hope that he ends up providing enough to give us choices here."
If LeCroy doesn't end up in Minnesota to start the year then he most certainly will be helping out the Twins' Triple-A Rochester club. Having LeCroy there would give the Twins a perfect coach-in-training on the bench to help mentor some of the organization's younger prospects players. LeCroy's goal has always been that once his playing days have ended, he wants to translate his baseball savvy into a managing career, hopefully one at the Major League level.
"Being a role player almost all of my time in the big leagues, you learn to watch games and pay attention to what a manager does and what the coaches do to prepare," LeCroy said. "From sitting on the bench and talking with [Mike] Redmond, I try to soak in as much knowledge as I can about the game. Hopefully it will help me down the road when I'm ready."
Right now, the fact remains that LeCroy is still not to that point.
"I'm going to play until they make me take it off," LeCroy said with a wide-grin smile, referring to his uniform. "I know you come to the point where you have to give it up but for now, I'm still happy to be playing baseball."
And the Twins are certainly happy to have him.