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The Inside Track | COMMENTARY

A Special Homecoming for Mets' Randolph

June 26, 2005|Shaun Powell | Newsday

PHILADELPHIA — Whenever Yankee Stadium was home, it was always special to Willie Randolph, who loved the place, and the place always loved him back.

But in the few times Yankee Stadium became a place to visit, something was lost in the process. It didn't feel so magnetic to a former Yankees second baseman and coach who spent 24 years there, nearly half his life.

Randolph, 50, first felt awkward being in the Stadium way back as a kid growing up in Brooklyn. He was a Mets fan, as dedicated as they come, and Shea Stadium was where he got hooked on baseball. But the Randolphs weren't exactly rich, and whenever free Yankees tickets became available through the summer program, he reluctantly chose the love of the game over his love for the Mets and made the trip to the Bronx.

"Me and my friends would just hang out in leftfield and throw peanuts at Roy White," Randolph said with a laugh.

Many years later, while spending the twilight of his playing career in Oakland, Randolph felt a little tense and somewhat betrayed whenever he returned to the place he called home.

"I was just really motivated," he said. "It was typical of wanting to beat your old team, to show off a little bit and make them regret letting me get away."

Randolph brought a combination of his feelings as a boy and an aging player when he returned to Yankee Stadium for a series against his former team. He won't be in the bleachers trying to plunk some poor, unsuspecting Yankees outfielder in the head, but he badly wants to see them lose, just the same.

The competitor in Randolph would love to "show off" what type of manager he is and can be, since the Mets gave him a job that was never realistically within his reach in the Bronx.

So although the hellos and handshakes will be welcome, they'll also be brief.

"I'll get locked into the game real quick," he said.

If you placed his hand on a Bible, Randolph would probably confess that his first managerial choice wasn't the Mets, and how he'd love the chance to see what he could do with all that talent bought by George Steinbrenner. But isn't it strange how things work out for the better? The guy in the other dugout has a chore on his hands and an angry owner on his case.

The struggling Yankees now are "different than I knew them," as Randolph put it diplomatically. And if Torre were truthful, he'd admit how he wouldn't mind trading places with Randolph for a few games, particularly those against Tampa Bay.

Randolph is in an ideal situation for a first-time manager. The Mets, who just took two of three against the Phillies, are a work in progress. There's no Yankees-like urgency to make the playoffs. He can grow into the job without fear of losing it. He has a general manager on the same page and a relaxed owner who's agreed to do nothing except write checks and cheer.

It's not as if Randolph had a chance with the Yankees anyway. When Torre signed an extension, Randolph had options: Either sit tight, wait Torre out and hopefully get the nod ahead of Don Mattingly, or take the first job available. When the team he rooted for as a kid called and made an offer, it was an easy choice.

"I always thought Joe was going to be there as long as he wanted to be," Randolph said. "George and the organization never gave me a feel for where I was sitting. Not that I was looking for that; I was too concerned about doing my job. You want to manage eventually, but the Yankees didn't let me know either way. And when we got into this great run with Joe, it didn't matter."

In a sense, the Randolph who returns as a manager is somewhat like the Randolph who returned as a member of the Athletics. One is just starting out while the other was winding down, but the motivation will be the same as it was then. In eight games as a visitor at Yankee Stadium, Randolph hit .400.

"I was always so psyched to play," he said. "I had good games every time I came back. This time, it'll be a little emotional, as well. I'm going to feel it. But my team needs to win. We need to get back to .500. That's all these games are about."

So the welcome-back vibe will last about five minutes. Then the place won't feel like home anymore.

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