Canseco determined to come back

February 25, 1994|By T.R. Sullivan | T.R. Sullivan,Fort Worth Star-Telegram

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Texas Rangers wanted Jose Canseco in camp early. They settled for four hours late.

Canseco made his grand entrance into the Rangers' training camp Wednesday just as his teammates were finishing their first full-squad workout in the grueling Florida heat.

He said he is ready to go to work, even though his arm is not 100 percent. He is resigned to the role of designated hitter, at least for the first half of the season.

"My hitting is 100 percent, my legs are 100 percent, my back is 100 percent, the arm itself is 70 percent," Canseco said. "The process of healing, that is still five months short. As soon as the arm is able to play right field, I'll be out there. But I don't see Jose Canseco playing out there at 90 percent. I have to be at 100 percent."

Canseco arrives in Port Charlotte at the crossroads of his career. He said he still can be the impact player he once was, even after the previous two disappointing seasons. He talks about having a 40-homer, 40-stolen base season and eventually returning to right field.

To achieve those goals, Canseco hired a "throwing technician" in the off-season to reteach him the art of throwing and a sprint coach to help him get his 245-pound frame around the bases faster.

"If it [his career] is at the crossroads, I've prepared myself the best I can to meet the situations I'm going to encounter and play as close to 100 percent as possible," Canseco said. "There were a lot of things that people never realized, personal problems both physically and psychologically, the past two years. Not that life is 100 percent, but I'm working toward it. It's getting a whole lot better every day."

On the field, Canseco has been in a downward spiral since 1991, when he hit 44 home runs, drove in 122 runs and finished fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting.

The following season, he developed back and shoulder troubles and was shocked when he was traded to Texas at the height of a pennant race. Last year, he embarrassed himself by having a ball bounce off his head for a home run and then, in the same week, ripped apart his elbow in his infamous pitching appearance in Boston.

"The last two years of my life, if I can laugh at that and take it in stride, I don't see why I can't handle anything," Canseco said. "It's hard to explain unless you go through what I've gone through. Once you get in an area so depressing where life means nothing, it's hard. I went through a lot. Now I'm more focused on the game. I want to get back to where I was. I'm more enthusiastic."

Canseco said the elbow surgery was a blessing -- even if the circumstances were embarrassing -- because he had been having arm troubles for two years.

"My arm feels extremely strong, especially hitting," Canseco said. "You'll be surprised how I swing that bat."

There is a feeling that Canseco's back and shoulder problems robbed him of the bat speed that was a big factor in his success.

There is also skepticism that he has the dedication to bring him back to that level. Said Oakland manager Tony La Russa last year, comparing ex-Ranger Ruben Sierra to Canseco: "One cares, the other doesn't."

Said Rangers manager Kevin Kennedy: "I think you'll see a different Jose Canseco this year. Jose has shared enough with me for me to know there were problems. His attitude is great."

Spring training will be the first proving ground for Canseco. Yesterday, after shaking hands with a few teammates, he and Kennedy met in Kennedy's office.

"I got here as soon as possible," said Canseco, who lives in Miami in the off-season. "It's seven days earlier than I used to; you can talk to La Russa about that."

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