Tuesday, October 19, 2010 Updated: October 20, 10:23 AM ET
Just doing what they can to help
By Jorge Arangure Jr. ESPN The Magazine
SAN FRANCISCO -- Baseball has never been kind to those with the audacity to age. It's a cruel sport, in that time and injuries take their toll on players and eventually, from the greatest names to the most forgettable, there comes a point when a player simply can't be relied upon consistently. A place exists for these types of players: the bench. It's a cruel fate, and not one easily accepted.
Edgar Renteria, 35, and Aaron Rowand, 33, aren't old by layman standards, but they are over-the-hill in baseball age. Their best days have passed, and everyone knows it, except, perhaps, them. But there are moments when either player, even in the slightest way, can help a team win, and there's a beauty and kindness in that, too, since baseball is also a game in which every tiny bit matters.
In the grand scheme of things, and in the box score, Renteria and Rowand combined to go 2-for-7 with two strikeouts in San Francisco's 3-0 win against the Phillies in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. Yet the two hits, Renteria's leadoff single in the fourth and Rowand's leadoff double in the fifth, were key contributions from two players who are now mostly lightly regarded, and in some cases, scorned because of their oversized contracts.
Edgar Renteria often helps the Giants when he's not playing. In Game 3, he helped the Giants on the field.
With a World Series to win, the Giants, or their fans, aren't in any position to disregard any contribution from the team's two highest-paid position players -- who made a combined $21 million this season.
"In a different situation they might respond differently," Giants injured utility player Mark DeRosa said. "I think everyone in this clubhouse has bought into that we have to go at this as a team."
Will Renteria -- who has a .660 OPS the past two seasons -- and Rowand -- a .706 OPS the past two seasons -- have ultimately earned their money? Probably not. But it's not outlandish to think most Giants fans would have easily agreed to have the team pay the players the money if it meant a World Series championship. The two players too would perhaps trade a season of instability for a championship.
"It's been hard," Renteria said of playing in a career-low 72 games this year. "But it's not the time of year to think about that. I need to think about getting on base for the big guys I don't think about me. I think about the team."
This season, Rowand played in just 105 games, his lowest total since 2003. Reduced to a bench role, he was quite literally the last man to make the postseason roster. Only his ability to play adequately in the outfield and the possibility that he could be used as a pinch runner won him a spot over Jose Guillen. It did not hurt his chances, either, that Rowand can provide in-game information about most Philadelphia players since he spent two seasons with the Phillies.
"At this point nobody cares about any of that," Rowand said. "Everybody only cares about winning games. Whatever you can bring to the table -- whether it's information -- it's about winning games. You just have to try to stay prepared mentally and go through at-bats when you're watching. You keep your mind going the way you would if you're standing at the plate."
Renteria also has provided insight to teammates even when he wasn't in the lineup. That's the one thing age does provide for players, an insight into the game that can't be learned except through experience.
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At times, Renteria approaches shortstop Juan Uribe, who in essence took Renteria's job, to make suggestions on how to field certain difficult ground balls. Renteria has also given advice to many of the Giants' younger players like Eugenio Velez.
During Game 4 of the NLDS, Renteria, who was not in the game at the time, suggested to Cody Ross after his first at-bat against Atlanta starter Derek Lowe that he keep his foot down. Ross went into the clubhouse and watched video of the at-bat. Renteria was right. Since then, Ross has carried the Giants offensively.
"You're not going to find a better person or a better guy than Edgar Renteria," Rowand said. "The man doesn't miss a thing, whether he's playing or not. He doesn't miss anything. He's one of the smartest players in the game, probably one of the smartest players to ever play the game."
Most remarkable is that Renteria is playing with a torn left biceps that makes it painful for him to swing.
"At this time of year, there is no pain," Renteria said.
Renteria said he is still not sure whether he will retire after the season. But what would he do without baseball? At times, Renteria has been uncomfortable with the attention his accomplishments have brought him in his native Colombia.
Renteria is a man who enjoys his privacy. His house in Barranquilla is heavily guarded with machine gun-toting men. Few people are allowed into his inner circle, he rarely makes public appearances, and there are times when Renteria spends more of his offseason in Florida, where he is masked by anonymity, than in Colombia.
So surely he can put off retirement for at least one more season, and there certainly can be a place on a team for a player so well-regarded.
Aaron Rowand is doing what he can to help his current team send his old team home.
After the Giants' Game 4 win against the Braves in the NLDS, Rowand approached Renteria during the raucous postgame celebration and told him, "I consider it a privilege to have played with you a couple years."
Perhaps the two players would be easier to dismiss by teammates if they weren't so liked.
"These guys are prepared as if they're playing every day," Freddy Sanchez said.
Before Game 3, Rowand's 5-year-old son, McKay, who was wearing a replica of his father's Giants jersey, stood near the Philadelphia dugout and greeted several Phillies players. Shane Victorino, who was taking batting practice, saw McKay and immediately walked over to say hello.
In just two years in Philadelphia, Rowand and his family became team favorites, and he became an important member of the clubhouse.
"I pull for them, just not when they're playing against me," Rowand said of the Phillies. "I always pull for them because they are lifelong friends, not people you forget about. I care about them because they're my friends. I was disappointed when they didn't win last year. But right now I want to beat them."
Rowand shivered while conducting his postgame interview. His often reckless manner of play has left his body so battered he often has to spend time in the cold tub to reduce swelling. But even in this condition Rowand had done something important on Tuesday: He had delivered a hit that sent his friends from Philadelphia one step closer to defeat.
Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.