Long baseball journey brings Roa to Twins' bullpen
MINNEAPOLIS -- Baseball's charm, the strange allure of this peculiar summer game, extends well beyond a soaring home run by Barry Bonds or a Red Sox-Yankees series in Boston.
It can also be found on the back of journeyman Joe Roa's baseball card.
"I was paying four mortgages last year at one time," Roa said. "You sign a six-month lease, and you get all these bills at the end."
Roa, now a right-handed relief pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, turns 33 in October. He began his professional career in June 1989, when the Atlanta Braves drafted him in the 18th round out of Hazel Park High School in Michigan.
Since then? He's moved around enough, through the minors and the majors, to make a military kid dizzy:
Traded to the New York Mets as a player to be named later.
Traded to the San Francisco Giants as a player to be named later to complete a deal for Matt Williams.
Signed with the Kansas City Royals as a minor-league free agent, then missed an entire season after Tommy John surgery on his elbow.
Returned to the Indians organization as a free agent.
Signed with the Florida Marlins as a minor-league free agent.
Joined the Peace Corps. (Joking.)
Signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a minor-league free agent.
Traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for -- guess who? -- that player-to-be-named-later guy.
And all that was before 2003.
When the Phillies released him in May, he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers and made four starts for their Triple-A team in Indianapolis. Released in July, Roa signed with Colorado the next day and appeared in four games before the Rockies put him on waivers and San Diego claimed him. He pitched in 18 games for the Padres, who granted him free agency after the season. The Twins signed him in December.
That's 12 organizations (plus two stints with Cleveland), including seven in the last two years and five over the past 13 months. He's been in Minnesota so long now that he might be ready to buy a snowblower. Maybe a lakeside cabin.
"I'm just going out there a little bit more relaxed," he said. "You change teams like that -- you try to be somebody you're not. Here, I just went out and tried to concentrate on getting the hitter out instead of worrying about trying to impress everybody -- to get back at every other team that let me go."
That would be hard to keep track of. But he was trying last season.
"My focus was on trying to prove it to the Rockies, and I'm not even pitching against the Rockies," he said. "I'm pitching against the Cubs or something. It was like, 'I'll show you, Rockies,' and I'm facing Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa. That's the last thing on your mind."
The pink slip from the Phillies last year hurt the most, since he made 11 starts for them in 2002 after a 14-0 first half for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earned him an All-Star break promotion.
Roa's 3-year-old son, Zachary, took it especially hard. He was on a TV commercial with some other players' children.
"He thought he was playing for the Phillies," Roa said.
All that bouncing around last year was beneficial, though. Not blessed with a blazing fastball, Roa realized that he should stop focusing on starting.
"I'm starting to enjoy the relief role now," he said. "It's nice knowing you can come to the park every day and have a chance to contribute."
Minnesota had one of baseball's strongest bullpens the last two seasons. While closer Joe Nathan is dominating the ninth inning and Juan Rincon is blossoming into a fine setup man, the departures of Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins depleted the depth. So the Twins are happy to have Roa's help.
"We can use him whenever we need to," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's always willing to take the ball. He eats up innings out there. ... He's done a very, very good job."
His 2.76 ERA is third lowest on the team, and he has two victories (one loss) in 29 1-3 innings. Though Roa hasn't appeared in many crucial situations and six of the 14 runners he has inherited (charged to the pitcher who put them on base) have scored, this is a success for a guy whose major-league totals entering this spring -- 7-10, 5.10 ERA, 246 hits and 48 homers allowed in 196 innings -- looked like the numbers from a really bad season by Brad Radke.
"It's been a journey," Roa said, "but it makes it all worth it when you're up here."
Dave Campbell can be reached at dcampbell(at)ap.org
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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