When talking screwballs, don’t forget Ronald Belisario
He strutted through the Dodgers’ clubhouse early Sunday morning as if he were a hero returning from war.
Ronald Belisario wrapped Jeff Weaver in a giddy bear hug. He grabbed Rafael Furcal’s shoulders and shook them with a laugh. He tapped Russell Martin’s arms and grabbed his hand and only then was the obvious question fearlessly posed.
“Where have you been?” a dumbstruck Martin said.
The only possible answer being, out to lunch.
Belisario’s body has finally shown up for spring training, yet the Dodgers still have no idea about the location of his head.
He was 34 days late from Venezuela, perhaps setting a baseball record for players with visa problems, arriving Saturday night at Camelback Ranch just as his teammates were packing for Los Angeles.
He was not only late, he was loopy, smiling and claiming he did not miss repeated meetings with the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, contradicting information given by Dodgers officials and even his own agent.
He even laughed at the “wanted” poster featuring his picture that had been plastered on a beam in the middle of the Dodgers’ clubhouse.
And, oh yeah, and he said he will be ready for opening day.
Said Belisario: “A week, I’m ready to go.”
Said Manager Joe Torre: “He thinks so? He also thought he was going to be here before now.”
It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating. On a Dodgers team that seems as sleek, steady and focused as any in recent memory, Belisario is that weird thump in the dashboard. In a clubhouse that is stoic about its business and serious about moving past consecutive National League Championship Series stumbles, Belisario is that awkward laugh in the corner.
“He has so much talent,” General Manager Ned Colletti said. “But some of the stuff he does, it certainly makes you wonder.”
This much is certain. One of the most important members of the Dodgers’ league-best bullpen is beginning spring training about a week before opening day. A hard-throwing right-hander who held right-handed hitters to a .157 average last year will almost certainly sit out at least two weeks of the regular season, if not more.
All because of an ailment for which there is no disabled list: brain cramps.
“I don’t know what to say anymore,” said Mariano Duncan, Dodgers first base coach and one of Belisario’s mentors. “I keep telling him, ‘This is not just your job, this is your life, you can’t keep messing up.’”
The Dodgers could cut him, but they know that somebody else would sign him within hours. His two-seam fastball is tremendous. His composure is strong. Teaming with George Sherrill, he’s an invaluable setup weapon for Jonathan Broxton, a central figure in their delicate bullpen dance.
“He’s easy to talk to, easy to like, he takes the ball and never has an excuse,” Torre said, shaking his head.
He also never seems to have a clue, which is particularly worrisome considering he is 27 years old and playing in his eighth professional season.
“This is not some kid, this is a grown man,” Duncan said. “At some point, he has to learn this stuff on his own.”
He was one of baseball’s biggest surprises last year after being plucked off a deep scrap heap to record a 2.04 earned-run average in his first major league season. But, in addition to being fined for several team violations, he was also fined by the city of Pasadena, being charged with DUI and resolving the issue by paying a $1,000 fine for reckless driving.
One might have thought he learned this stuff on his own. But meeting reporters Sunday, he appeared to have learned nothing.
He acknowledged that his visa was delayed because of U.S. concerns over the DUI incident. But instead of taking responsibility for not keeping appointments to fix the problem, as confirmed by the Dodgers and his agent, he basically seemed to blame the U.S. government.
“They [U.S. Embassy] made me do a lot of things and they held it,” he said of his visa, but then denied that he did not keep appointments.
“No, never,” he said, adding, “I never missed appointments. Maybe they think I missed it, but no.”
Upon hearing this claim, his agent Paul Kinzer sighed into the phone.
“It’s been so tough just getting him up there, I’m just glad he’s there,” Kinzer said. “Maybe it’s taken a while for everything to soak in.”
Belisario also said he has been working out, throwing twice a week off a mound, noting, “I took it easy, kept practicing.”
To this claim, Torre responded by shaking his head and saying, “Given everything that’s happened, we’re treating him like this is the first day of spring training.”
The future of the Dodgers bullpen depends on what happens now. With Belisario having been granted entrance to the United States, the Dodgers now hope he can acquire a visa to the real world.