Diversions gone, Canseco seems back in full swing

April 11, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

In Texas manager Kevin Kennedy's eyes, a new Jose Canseco showed up at the Rangers' spring training camp two months ago.

"From Day One in spring training, I could see it. He [Canseco] was early all of the time, and you didn't see that look like he had five things on his mind. He was very focused," Kennedy said.

Canseco, who has spent the past few years battling injuries and off-the-field problems -- and has seen his game deteriorate since winning the American League MVP award in 1988 -- looked like his old, menacing self yesterday.

He left a 1-for-14 start in the mud of Camden Yards with his finest performance of the young season. He went 3-for-3, scored three runs, stole a base, reached base in each of his five plate appearances and stunned the crowd with his first home run of the season, a mammoth shot to left field in the first inning.

Canseco went hitless in his first three games and did not collect his first hit until Saturday. He shrugged when asked about his slow start.

"As a veteran player, I've been through that before. You can't give in or concede; you've got to fight through it," he said. "Who knows? I could go 0-for-20 or I could go 7-for-20 from here on out. Baseball is that strange of a game."

There was nothing strange about Canseco's first-inning blast. Canseco, who turns 30 on July 2, entered the season with 245 home runs. Since 1986, his Rookie of the Year season, only Toronto's Joe Carter has hit more home runs.

After Texas had taken a 2-0 lead in the first inning, Canseco made history. He turned on a full-count slider from Arthur Rhodes and gave it a 423-foot ride. The ball dropped into the camera overhang just below the facade of the club level, the first time a home run has landed there.

Kennedy said: "I'm glad to see that, both for him and for us, because he had a real good spring. Jose is going to have a big year. I don't have a doubt about that.

"I saw it in November, the way he was going through his running program and his rehab. I saw it in spring training. I saw it in his bat speed. More than that, I saw it in his attitude. He has a new enthusiasm for the game."

Injuries have dogged Canseco since 1989, when he missed half the season with the Oakland Athletics with a stress fracture in his hand. Two years later, he missed 31 games with a bulging disk in his lower back. In 1992, back and shoulder injuries limited him to 119 games.

With a month left in the 1992 season, Oakland traded Canseco to Texas. Last year was a season he probably wishes he could forget. After Kennedy allowed him to pitch in a blowout loss on May 29, Canseco learned a month later that he had torn ligaments in his right elbow. He missed the final three months of the season after undergoing reconstructive surgery.

On top of his medical problems, Canseco has had several brushes with the law in recent years over handgun violations, and he went through a divorce 18 months ago. After a reconciliation attempt, he and his ex-wife, Esther, split for good last spring.

"It's important that he got some things straightened out in his personal life," said Kennedy. "Maybe he'll get to 300 [career home runs] this year. That might be stretching it, but he might get close."

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