10/29/2003 2:50 PM ET
Galarraga hopes to come back
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
"Mentally I'm stronger and I'm more relaxed now and more selective at the plate," Andres Galarraga said. (David Zalubowski/AP)
El Gato Grande will know soon if the Giants want him back for another year, and Andres Galarraga -- oh so typically -- is in a positive mood.
"I just work for them, so I don't know, but I'm ready to play another year," said the 42-year-old from his West Palm Beach, Fla., home Wednesday. "I'm proud of the season I had and that's why I've been thinking that way. I'm waiting to hear from the Giants, but I'd love to hit two more homers [for 400 over his career]."
Galarraga proved he's not washed up, even after more than 18 years in the big leagues, by hitting .301 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs last season as an invaluable bench player and part-time first baseman. He hit .300 as a pinch-hitter, .346 as a starter, led the team with a .351 average with runners in scoring position.
And for less than a million bucks he could very well do it again as defending National League West champion San Francisco hopes to slash its budget for 2004 but stay competitive.
"The Giants have about two more weeks to decide what to do with me, but I feel I'm a better player and better hitter now in certain situations," said Galarraga. "Mentally I'm stronger and I'm more relaxed now and more selective at the plate."
The Big Cat was a positive influence in the Giants clubhouse with his upbeat, friendly nature, and admits he has never lost his zest for baseball.
From a raw-boned youngster signed by the Montreal Expos as a non-drafted free agent in 1979 -- ironically on the advice of current Giants skipper Felipe Alou -- to a potential Hall of Famer, Galarraga's career has spanned four decades and featured two Gold Gloves, five All-Star game appearances, postseason play and 2,250 Major League contests.
"I'm feeling positive about going to the Hall of Fame -- it's something that could happen -- but the best thing is I feel happy with my career," said Galarraga. "My teams have won, and over 18 years I have no complaints.
Andres Galarraga / 1B
"I love everything about baseball. I love it with all my heart and enjoying what I'm doing. You never know what is going to happen every day. You learn something from the games. They can be so difficult, you can get out of a hole, then put it all together. It's amazing."
And the Cat's love affair with baseball will keeping him purring, no matter what.
He is in West Palm Beach, where he started his career at age 18, and where he plans to stay for a while. He has ties to the community, his daughter Andria attends Cardinal Newman High School and Galarraga regularly coaches the school's baseball team on the basics and nuances of the game.
He gets a charge out of giving back to the game, and expects, eventually, to return to his native Caracas, Venezuela, where baseball continues to thrive, as it does throughout Latin America.
"I probably will stay in the game somehow," said Galarraga. "I love to be around the kids, the teenagers learning the game. When I retire, I can spend more time with my family and then after another year I could coach locally.
"But I'd also like to open a baseball school in Venezuela to teach the kids English and how to deal with certain situations," he said. "I want to help them come to the U.S. and play the game. When I first started, I didn't speak English and had to learn the hard way. I want to help the young guys so they won't have the problems I had. I'm anxious to help."
Everywhere in Venezuela, there are kids playing ball. In the poorer communities, they're playing on dirt fields. They play in the streets, in the parks, in ballparks big and small. Latin players are the majority in the minor leagues and are nearly 30 percent of big leaguers. They are the wave of the present and of the future.
"You see Miguel Cabrera and the way he plays," said Galarraga. "There are a lot of young players like him in Venezuela."
Galarraga is a big man at 6-foot-3, 267 pounds and he's already preparing for the possibility of one more campaign by regular weight training and workouts with a personal trainer, as well as, practicing in West Palm Beach with big leaguers Larry Walker, Luis Alicea and minor leaguers in the area.
Galarraga is hopeful he'll again be a Giant next season, thanks to his batting eye, glove and experience. And he feels reaching 400 homers would cap off his great career.
"I know I can still produce," he said. "It would be good to play for San Francisco again."