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Canseco makes latest pitch

By Monte Poole, The Oakland Tribune –

OAKLAND, Calif. — Selected by the A’s in the 15th round of the 1982 draft, Jose Canseco’s first pro contract came with a $10,000 bonus. Thirty years, 462 big league home runs and $45 million in salary later, he’d work for less.

You say he’s stalking the spotlight and hasn’t figured out the futility of this hunt.

He says he’s chasing his own personal dream. And that it’s his right to do so.

The next phase of Canseco’s pursuit brings him to the roots of his glory. He’s making an appearance Saturday evening at Banner Island Ballpark, the home of Oakland’s Single-A affiliate in Stockton.

He’ll throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Ports, whose ownership operates independently from the big club. He’ll sign autographs. He’ll be tall and sculpted and well-tanned. He’ll be VIP for a night.

“It’ll be a lot of memories, a lot of fun,” he says over the phone while navigating the streets of greater Boston. “I have a lot fans there, and a lot of people will have a great opportunity to come by and say hi.”

Yes, folks, come out and say hello to Jose Canseco, an enduring curiosity whose adult life has thus far been defined by four acts.

Act I: Jose as the young, handsome baseball phenom, an Oakland A’s outfielder with unlimited potential, a muscular slugger with mythical power.

Act II: Jose as the gracelessly aging veteran, a vagabond hopping from town to town and team to team, whose skills so deteriorated he once had a batted ball bounce off his head and over the fence.

Act III: Jose as baseball’s mobile whistle-blower, an admitted abuser of performance-enhancing drugs going straight, vowing to expose his fellow cheats and clean up the game — for a profit.

Act IV: Canseco as the retired ballplayer who lives on personal appearances at various locations across the country signing autographs or posing for photographs or starring in reality TV shows or otherwise fulfilling the role of celebrity for rent.

So of course Canseco has regrets. Of course he yearns to go back in time. He does not wish to be living this life, still chasing the dream he once knew so well. Not at age 47.

If he could, he would rewind the years, return to Act I, and this time listen to and heed the solemn voices of the ethical.

“I’d definitely not use steroids — that’s for sure,” he says. “That’s the big thing. If I was told, ‘Don’t use steroids’ and ‘They’re illegal,’ I definitely would’ve never used ‘em.

“I had a lot of natural talent. As a matter of fact, the year that I hit the most home runs (46 in 1998), I was not using steroids at all. I was 229 pounds. I had 100 RBIs and 29 stolen bases and still hit 46 home runs. So I definitely believe steroids are overrated.”

It is as if he is constantly mocked by his wayward youth — a youth lavish with promise.

Canseco is the slugger who was but also could have been. Or at least might have been. He was the Bryce Harper of the mid-1980s. Canseco was a Rookie of the Year at age 22. At 24, he became the charter member of baseball’s 40-40 Club and the A.L. MVP.

He was at once a circus act and a fireworks display, consistently hitting baseballs farther than anyone had ever seen. His was the biggest name on the marquee.

“God, I’m constantly reminded of that,” he says. “I try not to think about it too much because I’m going to be 48 years old. The great physical days, the great Oakland A’s days, for me have passed. And you know what? It’s a long fall from the top, from being an MVP and 40-40 guy. It’s a long fall. For professional athletes, there always will be a downfall because you can’t stay up there forever.”

I ask Jose if he can pinpoint the high points and low points of his A’s career.

“I remember when I came into the organization in ‘86. (Mark) McGwire came in. Rickey (Henderson) came in. (Dennis) Eckersley. Dave Stewart. All these great, great players meant we’d have a chance to win,” he recalls, his warmth coming through the phone. “We figured we’d sweep the Dodgers and when we lost to them, we were humbled. We had a great team, a great organization. We probably had the most well-rounded ballclub in the sport. If we had played the Dodgers in a series that was 15 games, we would have won 10.”

The low point? August of ‘92, when he was pulled from the on-deck circle and traded.

“I was probably the last one who saw it coming,” he recalls. “I thought I’d be with the A’s forever. It wasn’t even a rumor. I didn’t hear anything. I wasn’t prepared for it.”

He says he was hurt and shocked and saddened, that he “didn’t know anything else other than the Oakland A’s at the time.”

That’s when he realized baseball is a business. And he was a commodity.

He still is. Canseco is on the roster of the Worcester Tornadoes of the Canadian-American Association, an independent league. His tender shin is healing. He plans to be back, mashing baseballs.

“If I crushed it right, I’d say I can hit it about 500 feet,” he says.

“I just love to play baseball. I’m real simple. I think I keep playing the game because you try and hold on to youth for as long as you can. And I associate youth with baseball.”

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