Trade makes bored veteran ball player feel like a rookie

NEW YORK (AP) Andy Van Slyke hated baseball, hated it so much that he dreaded going to the ballpark.

Actually, who could blame him? The three-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove hadn't had much to celebrate lately.

Whether it was his departure on poor terms from the Pittsburgh Pirates, his two weeks of spring training limbo at the free agent camp in Homestead, Fla., his $2.75 million pay cut or his two months of sporadic action with the Baltimore Orioles, everything was going bad for the 12-year veteran.

It all changed very suddenly.

Van Slyke was dealt from Baltimore to the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday and was the starting center fielder Monday night against the New York Mets. He went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer, hit a sharp single in his first at-bat and made a nice shoestring catch in a 6-3 victory.

In a span of less than 48 hours, he went from being an unhappy .159 hitter on a last-place team to a jubilant .500 hitter on a first-place team.

Afterward, he sat at his locker and described how good it all felt.

''This is probably the first time in two years I've had fun. I felt like a rookie out there tonight,'' Van Slyke said. ''From being nine games out and in last place, going to a first-place club, it makes it fun again. I can look forward to going to the ballpark again, and quite honestly, I couldn't do that in Baltimore.''

Van Slyke, who made $3.3 million with Pittsburgh in 1994, signed with Baltimore on April 21 for $550,000 and the chance to make $150,000 more in bonuses. His time with the Orioles was marked by two stints on the disabled list, 17 game appearances and plenty of bad karma.

''You would think that after 12 years in the majors, a player would have a certain level of confidence that you wouldn't lose,'' he said. ''But maybe I did there, and maybe I started doubting myself. I always felt I was trying out for the Orioles every day.''

When Van Slyke was told that catcher Matt Nokes had been cut by the Orioles, hinting on his way out the door that he was leaving a team in disarray, Van Slyke nodded his head.

''I'm not going to say I disagree with that statement,'' he said. ''He has made a pretty good assessment of that situation.''

With outfielders Gregg Jefferies and Len Dykstra on the disabled list, the Phillies acquired Van Slyke to give them a highly qualified stopgap until the others get healthy.

''Physically, he looks in good condition, although I don't know how good he is for playing every day,'' manager Jim Fregosi said.

What is known is this: The Phillies have been in first place since May 7 and have a better chance of staying there if Van Slyke, a career .275 hitter, continues to contribute.

''I didn't come here to take anyone's job. I came here to do one,'' he said. ''I just want to be a piece of the pie I don't care if it's the crust, the filling or the pan. Just to be a part of this is tremendous.''

Sure doesn't sound like a comment from a guy who hates his job.

Andy Van Slyke doesn't anymore.

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