04/22/10 3:25 PM ET
Podsednik keeps success in perspective
Royals left fielder looks beyond great start at bigger picture
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
The Royals' left fielder avoids, with "all due respect," discussions about statistics at all.
"If you start reading into much of it, you can believe it," Podsednik said. "If you don't read it, you don't worry about it, you don't focus on it, then it's not going to be that big of a deal. So I tend to just not get caught up in it."
Well, sure, at this early stage of the season it's not likely that Podsednik will keep hitting .449 and invade Ted Williams territory. But it's certainly an encouraging start with a team that was leading the American League with a .296 batting average entering its open date on Thursday.
Behind Podsednik, at least before their games on Thursday, were National Leaguers Ivan Rodriguez at .444 and Manny Ramirez at .421. His AL lead was a healthy one, ahead of the .393 by Seattle's Franklin Gutierrez and the .377 by a guy that hits behind him in the Royals lineup, Jose Guillen.
Podsednik, despite his aversion to numbers, not only leads the Royals in hitting but his eight walks, .526 on-base percentage and seven stolen bases are all tops on the club as well.
The steals are particularly noteworthy as the Royals made a concentrated effort to improve team speed this season. To that end, Podsednik is exhibit A and probably the greenest of the club's green-light guys, free to go on his own.
"I've always had the ability to run and I understood early that I was going to have to steal bases and do all those little things to hang around the league," he said. "So I learned how to steal bases or got better at it in the Minor Leagues. I'm still getting better at it, but I've still had the green for most teams that I've played for."
Podsednik's zenith was 70 steals in 2004 for the Milwaukee Brewers. He pilfered 30 last season in 132 games for the White Sox, and has 273 in his career.
He can bunt, too. Of his five infield hits so far for the Royals, three are bunt singles.
"I like to keep the defense on their toes," he said. "I like to spread it around and go both ways. It's just a matter of using my ability to run offensively."
Podsednik also is known for a half-swing poke he uses to push the ball around the infield in an effort to beat out a hit. Sometimes, if the moment is appropriate, opponents contend it's a flat-out bunt.
"It's a swinging bunt but some managers think it's a bunt and when I foul off the third strike, they try to question it. Luckily I haven't fouled it off with two strikes yet [this season]," he said. "I'm purposely trying to put it in the right spot and outrun it to first. It's not a bunt."
Podsednik's speed comes in very handy in the outfield and, for a time last winter, he was the Royals' center fielder. Then the team signed Rick Ankiel, bumping Podsednik to left field and David DeJesus to right.
"He's been a great addition for us without a doubt. I really like the way that he plays left field," manager Trey Hillman said of Podsednik. "It kind of takes me back to a conversation I had with him last winter. I asked him what his passion was as far as playing the outfield. He said, 'My passion is playing center field but I'm just as comfortable now playing left field as I am center field. I couldn't have told you that at this same time last year.' "
In 2009, Podsednik played more games in left field than center for the White Sox. And he accepted the addition of Ankiel and his position switch with grace when Hillman called to inform him.
"The first thing out of Podsednik's mouth was, 'We just signed Rick Ankiel, we just got better. I'll play wherever you need me to play,'" Hillman recalled.
His defense was especially spectacular last Friday night at Minnesota's Target Field, where he made a diving catch into the warning track in foul ground and ranged to the wall for another fine grab.
"Pod put on a clinic," Hillman said.
The pinnacle of Podsednik's career came in 2005 when he helped the White Sox win the World Series. His walk-off home run to win Game 2 over the Astros was dramatic stuff considering he didn't hit a homer in the regular season yet this was his second of the postseason.
"To hit a walk-off home run on baseball's biggest stage, I'll never top that," he said. "Just given the time and the place of where it was -- for a city and an organization that hadn't won a championship in 90-something years -- was pretty special."
|"As I've gotten older I pay a lot more attention to where I am, how long it took to get here and I realize that I'm playing with some of the best players around. And you can't lose sight of that."|
-- Royals left fielder|
"So I will look back at '05 quite a bit. That was a magical year," Podsednik said.
He and his wife, Lisa, are making sure their 11-month-old daughter, Peytra, will have some mementos to share with them in years to come.
"I keep the big, important pieces. I have some of those in my office. My wife and I have a game room where we have a lot of that memorabilia," Podsednik said. "I've worked my entire life to get to this level and I've put a lot of work into it and I want to keep that type of stuff. When I get old, it's going to be nice to have a piece of memorabilia to look back and reflect upon."
For a guy who makes a career of base hits and stolen bases, Podsednik had an unusual boyhood hero: Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. But then he did grow up in the small town of West, Tex.
"I grew up following the Texas Rangers and when [Ryan] came aboard, he was fun to watch. His presence on the mound, the way he went about his business," Podsednik said. "And then after talking with guys who have faced him, like Jim Thome, they said he was very intimidating. So he was one of the guys I enjoyed watching at a young age."
Drafted by the Rangers in the third round of 1994, Podsednik's stay with his favorite team was short-lived. He was traded the next year to the Marlins. In 1997, the Rangers got him back in the Rule 5 Draft, but after three years in their Minor League system he became a free agent. He finally reached the Majors in 2001 with the Seattle Mariners.
His career finally rocketed after he was snatched off waivers by the Brewers. Still a rookie in 2003, he batted .314. Dealt to the White Sox, he spent three years there including that glorious 2005. Cut loose after an injury-marred 2007, he caught on with Colorado for 2008 but, at the end of Spring Training 2009, he was released by the Rockies.
Podsednik spent Opening Day 2009 sitting in his home north of Dallas.
"Just eye-opening, very humbling, very surreal," he said. "Because I still felt I could compete at this level. It was just a matter of finding the opportunity. The Rockies chose to go a different route. They wanted to go younger and that left me out. That's part of the game but I still felt like I could go out and do it, if I just found a spot."
He did, back with the White Sox and last season, at 33, Podsednik not only got those 30 stolen bases but led the club in hitting at .304. Not good enough, though, to be asked back. That's when the Royals entered his life.
In recent years, Podsednik has learned the importance of being a husband and father. This week he had a scare and rushed home to Kansas City on Monday after learning that his wife and daughter had been in an auto accident. After making sure they were OK, he rejoined the club on Tuesday.
Through all the ups and downs of his profession, he's come to thoroughly appreciate and to put into perspective the special life he leads as a baseball player.
"It's easy to get caught up in it. And now being older and being a little wiser, I'm learning not to take it for granted so much as I used to when I was younger. You spend two, three, four years in the big leagues as an everyday player and you just get caught up in it," he said.
"Sometimes it takes some type of injury or happening or occurrence to kind of bring you down a little bit. But as I've gotten older I pay a lot more attention to where I am, how long it took to get here and I realize that I'm playing with some of the best players around. And you can't lose sight of that."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.