'These are my last chances to play'

Editor's Note: Lenny Harris of the Marlins is baseball's all-time leading pinch hitter and has played 18 years with eight teams because of his immense versatility.

People keep asking me when I'm going to retire, why do I keep playing. "Lenny, you're 40 years old, man. You can't play anymore." But you can't let that get in your mind. You never think, "I can't do this anymore" or "You are too old."

That's why I'm so happy for guys like Julio Franco [age 46] and Roger Clemens [42]. It's not your age, it's your heart, and they go out and compete every single time, like it's their last games. Playing this long is not about the money; it's about as time goes along and your days up here become shorter, you get whatever you can out of each game.

You see the ballparks, you look at the dimensions and the gaps, and you are around your teammates and friends. You smell the roses and you never want to stop playing something that you love so much -- especially when people keep asking you, "When are you going to retire?"

I've got plenty of time to rest. These are my last chances to play.

So you prepare for each year. You get to the park earlier and do your work earlier, trying to get a head start. You go to the gym, lift weights and ride the bike. You stay hungry and aggressive. And in a job like mine, when you know you're coming off the bench for one at-bat a game, what motivates you is getting the job done.

I always remember what Pete Rose said to me when I broke camp with the Reds in 1988: "Go call your mama and tell her you're going north with us."

I was so happy. I didn't want to do anything to let Pete down. He believed in me and told me that I was going to play this game for 20 years. Stay in shape, always be ready. I didn't believe him. I couldn't see it. But now that I look back on it, Pete was right.

Except I've got two more years to go.

Dennis Tuttle is a freelance contributor based in the Washington, D.C., area.