VERO BEACH, Fla. — It has been this kind of spring for Bill Madlock, the Dodgers' veteran third baseman:
After missing four of the last five exhibition games because of a chronically sore right shoulder, Madlock stepped into the batting cage before Tuesday's game against the Detroit Tigers. The first pitch, a fastball, hit Madlock flush on his left elbow.
Madlock, in obvious pain, dropped his bat and ran out of the cage. Moments later, he was off to the trainer's room, which is where he has spent much of the spring.
This time, though, he had company, Ivan Lendl, the tennis star who recently had arthroscopic surgery performed on his left knee by Frank Jobe, the Dodgers' team physician.
Madlock, who likes to talk tennis almost as much as baseball, nearly forgot about the pain and the numbing cold of the ice that his elbow was soaking in.
"I'm the McEnroe of baseball," Madlock said, smiling. "I've been kicked out of every park in the league."
Countered Lendl: "You've got it made. You yell at an umpire and you're back the next day. I do it and I'm suspended. You punch (an umpire) and you're out maybe two weeks. I do it, and I'm suspended six months."
Madlock: "Yeah, but you can play exhibition matches and make a million bucks."
They talked for a while longer about baseball, tennis, injuries, money--the usual things athletes discuss.
Then Lendl looked at Madlock's body and at his elbow in the ice bucket and said: "You must feel terrible at 36 years old. I'm 27 and I already feel bad."
This certainly hasn't been the best spring for Madlock, a 13-year major league veteran who isn't real fond of spring training even when he isn't hurting.
Even before the start of spring training, Dodger management had hinted that Madlock would have to withstand the challenge of rookies Jeff Hamilton and Tracy Woodson if he hoped to keep his starting job. Madlock countered by saying that perhaps trading him might not be a bad idea.
Madlock played in only 111 games last season because of injuries and the club's late-season decision to give Hamilton big-league experience.
Now Madlock, in the final year of a contract that pays him $800,000, is injured again. So far, though, neither Hamilton nor Woodson has been impressive, so Madlock's position may be safe.
"I don't even worry about it anymore," Madlock said. "There are always going to be people down there who they are going to give a chance to replace you. There are always going to be people who doubt your ability."
Despite his customary slow start and being on the disabled list twice last season, Madlock had a strong second half and finished with a .280 average and 60 runs batted in, best on the team.
Yet, the Dodgers cast skeptical eyes on his age and his history of injuries. Nothing new there to Madlock.
"They always talk about my injuries last season, but what about Guerrero, Marshall, Landreaux . . . There's too many to mention," he said. "You can't do anything when you're not in there. When I was in there, I did OK. I hit .340 in the second half.
"It kills me that they talk about me missing games at 35. What about the guys who missed games at age 25 or 22? That's who they should be worrying about? Not me. I know how I react after injuries."
Madlock said he feels no special need to hold off the challenge of Hamilton and Woodson this season. In his mind, spring training performances for both veterans and rookies shouldn't count for much.
"I'm trying to get prepared for the season, not the exhibition games," Madlock said. "I mean, if I wanted to push my shoulder, I could've played today. But do I want to get ready just to wear green hats (for the Dodgers' annual St. Patrick's Day game)? You like to start playing well about a week before the season starts."