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DODGERS SPRING REPORT

Elster, Dodgers a Nice Fit

March 20, 2000|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VERO BEACH, Fla. — It isn't surprising that Kevin Elster wondered whether he could still play in the major leagues.

The longtime shortstop was out of baseball last season, laying by the pool at his Las Vegas home and waiting for the phone to ring. The Dodgers called in the off-season and offered Elster an opportunity, and the rest is unfolding well for Elster and the Dodgers.

The non-roster player has impressed in his exhibition audition, already earning a spot on the 25-man roster. Manager Davey Johnson looks to Elster to provide help off the bench in relief of Alex Cora, the opening-day shortstop barring injury or illness.

Elster believes he's well suited for the role because he has proven to himself, and others, that he still has something to offer.

"Not to sound blase about the whole thing, but the main thing for me was proving to myself that I could still be out there," said Elster, who had a run-scoring single in Sunday's 9-5 loss to the Montreal Expos at Dodgertown.

"I mean, I wanted to come in here and show Davey and everyone that I could maybe do some things to help this ballclub. That was definitely important to me because I wasn't going to come here unless I was serious about accepting the challenge and doing what I needed to do each day.

"But it's just that with everything I had been through, proving it to myself was the first thing on my mind. You really don't know what's going to happen when you take a year off, so the first goal for me was to find out what I could still do for myself."

Elster, 35, last played for the Texas Rangers in 1998. In 84 games that season, he batted .232 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs.

Then Elster walked away.

Though he had some offers, he said he simply didn't have the drive needed to play after battling major injuries throughout a career that began in 1988.

His attitude changed when the Dodgers called.

"I just thought it would be the right fit because I knew Davey [he played under Johnson with the New York Mets] and I wanted to go someplace where they were trying to win," Elster said. "This organization was clearly trying to do that, so I decided to give it another try. Really, I figured I had nothing to lose even if it didn't work out."

It's working out.

Elster is batting .240 with one home run and five runs batted in, but his stats aren't the key, Johnson said.

"There are a lot of other things you look for when you're putting a club together," Johnson said. "He brings a lot with his experience."

Elster was selected the American League comeback player of the year in 1996, batting .252 with 24 homers and 99 RBIs. He probably won't approach those statistics this season, and his fielding range isn't what it was when he established the National League record for shortstops with 88 consecutive errorless games in '89.

"You know, I've never been one of those guys who looks at the glass as being half empty," he said. "Sure, I've sometimes wondered how my career would have been if I hadn't had so many injuries, but you can't really focus on that.

"I've got another opportunity right now, and I'm trying to make the most of it."

*

Batting leadoff, F.P. Santangelo went four for five with a solo homer Sunday. . . . Chan Ho Park gave up seven hits and four runs in four innings while pitching in the rain.

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