TEMPE, Ariz. — As a three-time All-Star, and former .300 hitter and middle-of-the-order threat, Joe Veteran has no need to listen to critics, especially those ripping on his huge contract.
He would of course love to be able to silence them, but, in his heart, he knows they’re right.
Veteran, who is trying to bounce back from the two worst seasons of his career, said he thinks he’s likely to be even worse this year, the unavoidable march of time taking its toll on his bat speed and other underlying physical skills. And while he avoids reading stories about himself– mostly because he spent so much time as a child developing his baseball skills that he never learned to read– he is forced to admit that what he hears on sports talk radio is almost certainly accurate, and he will never reach his previous heights again.
There’s a perception that such resignation is what has been fueling Veteran’s decline, but he is quick to dismiss that theory. “My muscles are weaker, my eyesight is worse, and I’m kind of too rich to really care anymore,” he says. “Some people may pretend they’re still in their prime, but I’ve always been a realist. You’d have to be an idiot to think I can still rack up the stats like I used to.”
Being healthy and on the field is no longer a given for Veteran, who admits that he wore himself out before he signed his big contract, trying to prove he was worth it, and now he mostly worries avoiding about a retirement spent in constant pain due to the wear and tear. That’s why he’s told his manager to rest him as often as he wants. “I don’t really care about being on the field. And even if I did,” he admits, “the team is probably better off without me. I’m happy to mentor some youngster if they want. Not that a youngster should listen to a jaded old man like me.”
Veteran was limited last spring while recovering from offseason surgeries on his right knee, left shoulder, and remaining testicle, then was dogged during the season by an acute case of “just plain old,” as he called it in an interview conducted over a bowl of cream of wheat and glass of Ensure.
The surgeries eventually healed with rest and treatment, but Veteran’s spirit was irreparably broken. “Look, you want to blame it on my attitude, I understand– but you have to realize, even the best attitude is not going to make up for the fact that I basically have no elbow anymore, and I can’t lift my right foot. This game is hard for anyone– but after years of taxing your body to its limits? It’s a wonder I’m still alive.”
Veteran wound up with career-low offensive numbers across the board, hitting somewhere above the Upton line, but below the Hamilton marker. His OPS was especially troubling, because it was the fifth year in a row it dwindled.
“I am elderly for a ballplayer. Most of my peers in the minor leagues have already retired. I was good for a while. Great, even. We all lose our physical skills. Why is this a surprise?” he asked, loudly due to a lack of effective hearing, in between denture fittings.
“Even if I felt 100%, 100% now is like 14% was back then. I have no doubt I can’t even come close to my career norms. It’s simple logic, really. Now please let me nap.”
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