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Cardinals aren't the only ones...

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  • Cardinals aren't the only ones...

    Diamondbacks left fielder Luis Gonzalez faced a big decision last fall.

    He could undergo surgery to repair a half-torn ligament in his right elbow and miss the entire 2004 season, or work to strengthen the area around the injury and keep playing, knowing an operation might be necessary anyway.

    For Gonzalez, it was a no-brainer.

    "After they told me I was going to have to miss the full season, there was no thinking about it," he said.

    Gonzalez went through his first spring training workout Sunday, hoping the off-season program to strengthen the muscles around the injury will hold up through a 162-game season.

    Gonzalez, who bats left-handed and throws right-handed, never felt any pain when he was hitting, only when he threw.

    The $30 million, three-year contract extension he received a year ago was the result of his bat, not his below-average arm.

    "It was the weakest part of my game," he said, "and I guess it's going to stay the weakest part of my game."

    Gonzalez went from journeyman outfielder to All-Star with the Diamondbacks.

    Only once in his five seasons with Arizona has he hit below .300, and he has had more than 100 RBIs every year.

    Last season he was the lone consistent threat on one of the NL's worst offenses, hitting. 304 with 26 home runs and 104 RBIs.

    With manager Bob Brenly promising a regular lineup this season, Gonzalez is to hit in his customary third spot, behind Roberto Alomar and ahead of Richie Sexson, both new acquisitions. With Sexson behind him, Gonzalez figures to see more pitches to his liking.

    "I'm excited to be out there this year," Gonzalez said. "It's going to take a lot to get me off the field."

    Gonzalez injured his arm trying to strengthen it. With a couple of months to go last season, he was doing work trying to add some velocity to his throws to the infield.

    "One day I went out there to throw and the ball felt like I was throwing a bowling ball in," he said. "One day went by, then another, then another and it didn't get better."

    Gonzalez hates to sit out. He played in 446 consecutive regular-season games from September 1999 to August 2002.

    He balked at getting an MRI exam until after the season, largely because the team, fading in the playoff race, already had endured the loss of aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling to injury.

    "I didn't want to be that third victim to go down," he said. "You send up a white flag, and I didn't want to do that."

    Tests after the season revealed a Grade 2 sprain. Trainer Paul Lessard said about half the ligament is torn. Albert Pujols played all of last season with a similar injury, although Gonzalez said his is far worse.

    Lessard wants Gonzalez to be throwing comfortably from 150 feet by the time spring training ends.

    "We're going to take what we can get from Gonzo," Brenly said. "He's not in there for his defense. We may shorten him up a step or two in the field if we have to, but he's got enough arm to get the ball into the cutoff man and throw out the guys he should."

    Lessard said the choice to not have surgery made sense, because there always is a second option.

    "If it works, it works," the trainer said. "If it doesn't, he's out for the season anyway."

    Gonzalez, 36, said if he does end up having surgery, there's no doubt he'll go through the lengthy rehabilitation to return to baseball.

    Meanwhile, he said he still feels a twinge in the elbow and doesn't know what will happen when he starts playing at full speed.

    "I'm going out there to do everything like nothing happened," he said. "If you see me pick my arm up and walk in with it under my left elbow, that will mean something happened. Until then, I'm just going to continue to play."
    I agree with Davhaf.....Kaiser March 9,2004

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    Mick Jagger is in better shape than far too many NBA players. It's up in the air whether the same can be said of Keith Richards.

    Bill Walton