Phils reunite ex-defectors

CLEARWATER — When word first started spreading that veteran pitcher Jose Contreras was joining the Phillies last month, no one was happier than Danys Baez.

This was no ordinary new teammate for Baez. Hardly.

Contreras' signing completed a remarkable reunion of two men who escaped Cuba and found success in the majors.

"I called (Contreras) right after he signed," said Baez, a former Ray who signed with Philadelphia in January. "From the real Cuba to the Philadelphia Phillies, that's the dream."

Said Contreras: "The first day we went through the door after training, my wife passed and said, 'I'm really happy to see Danys.' I said, 'You're happy? No, I'm happy. It's a lot easier.' "

During the first 11 days they've spent at the Phillies' spring home, Baez, 32, and Contreras, 38, have been linked at the spikes. Where one goes, the other follows.

The two right-handers, who are expected to pitch out of the bullpen, were linked once before: Baez and Contreras were both members of the Cuban national team 10 years ago.

Manager Charlie Manuel is banking on the Cuban reunion to add durability and dependability to his bullpen in 2010.

"Contreras has got a big arm," Manuel said recently. "And Baez will never turn down the ball; these are mentally tough guys."

The similar makeup Manuel sees likely was established through the trials the pitchers had to go through to flee from Cuba. Baez, a 22-year-old rookie in 1999, defected while with the Cuban team and signed with the Indians. Contreras dealt with the repercussions.

Before Baez defected, he gave Contreras some personal effects intended for his family. But when Contreras arrived at Baez's home, it wasn't Baez's mom who welcomed him.

"All the police officers in town were waiting for me," Contreras said.

Contreras was released when it became apparent that he didn't have any details about Baez's defection.

HALLADAY DEBUT: RHP Roy Halladay will make his Phillies debut Thursday against the Yankees in a 1:05 p.m. game at Bright House Field.

Jays: No quitting for minor-league veteran

DUNEDIN — Randy Ruiz had bounced around the minors for 10 years before getting his first taste of the majors. This year he hopes to stick with one club: the Blue Jays.

He knows from experience not to get his hopes up.

"I put no pressure on myself," Ruiz said. "I would love to be up there with the club but right now I'm just going to have fun and try to do what I can do."

Beginning in 1999, Ruiz was signed and released by the Reds, Orioles, Cardinals, Phillies (twice), Royals, Yankees and Giants before latching on with the Twins after the 2007 season.

In 2008 he got his first taste of the majors, if only for 22 games.

In 11 minor-league seasons he batted .304 and was a four-time batting champion, two-time All-Star, International League rookie of the year at age 30 in 2008 and Pacific Coast player of the year last season.

"Everywhere I've been I've done well, but it was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," Ruiz, 32, said. "I was behind (Cincinnati's) Ben Broussard at one point when he was a big prospect. I was behind (Philadelphia's) Ryan Howard. When I was with the Yankees they had Jason Giambi.

"These guys are superstars making multimillion dollars. All you can do is sit and wait and not worry about what happens up there."

Yanks: Rivers hopes for full-time gig

TAMPA — Mickey Rivers is a fan favorite at Yankees' fantasy camps and a team spring training instructor.

Now "Mick the Quick" would like to work full-time as a minor-league instructor.

"Definitely, I love working with kids," Rivers said. "I think that's exciting. Show them something different. You want to try and put something together with the kids."

Rivers, 61, works with both major- and minor-league outfielders during the spring and helps out with baserunning and bunting sessions.

"What they see here, they probably take it and use through the course of their life," Rivers said. "It's a good thing."

FAST FACTS

Yankees

George Steinbrenner Field, 1 Steinbrenner Drive, Tampa

Phillies

Carpenter Complex and Bright House Field, 601 Old Coachman Road, Clearwater

Blue Jays

Englebert Complex, 1700 Solon Ave., Dunedin

Phils reunite ex-defectors 02/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 27, 2010 9:37pm]

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