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March 18, 2003

Spring Training Q&A

Ron Gant

by Craig Elsten

Ron Gant entered the majors at 22 as a light-hitting second baseman, but later transformed himself into one of the more feared power hitters in the National League. Continuing his series of articles from spring training in Arizona, BP correspondent Craig Elsten sat down with the former All-Star and Comeback Player of the Year recently, and asked him about his time in Atlanta, the motorcycle accident that nearly ended his career, and the hopes he has for his current team, the Oakland Athletics.

Baseball Prospectus: You're entering your 16th year of Major League Baseball. What continues to motivate you to perform at the highest level?

Ron Gant: I think it's a number of things, but the most important thing isI've played the game a long time, and I want to go to the World Series and win it. I keep myself in good enough shape to where I can still play the game, and as long as I can continue to do that, then I feel I can still contribute and help a team. And if I feel like I can't do that, then it will be time to step down.

BP: Over the last few years, you've been moving around a lot, from team to team. That means each year, you have a new spring training locale and a new set of teammates to adjust to. Is that difficult?

RG: It can be difficult, but for a guy who's been around a long time, I guess I've just kind of gotten used to it. You know, I'm just taking the veteran approach to it. No matter where I play, I'm going to be able to contribute, so no matter what ballclub it is, I feel I can help that team win.

BP: Ron, let's go back to the beginning of your career, because you've got what I would call a riches-to-rags-to-riches story. You had great success as a rookie infielder with the Braves, but fell all the way down to single-A ball. From there, a conversion to the outfield, then all the way back to All-Star status. What triggered that bumpy ride?

RG: It was difficult, especially when you get to the big leagues and have a great rookie year, and then the next year you find yourself back down in A-ball, trying to learn a different position. So, it was difficult at times, but something told me not to ever give up, you know, the determination inside to prove that I could be one of the best players in the game. It's like nothing ever stopped me from achieving what I wanted to achieve.

BP: Was there ever any doubt when you were sent down to Single-A?

RG: You start wondering, thinking, "what the heck happened?" I just had a good year the previous year in the major leagues, and now I'm back in the minor leagues, so what's going on here? There were times where, yeah, I shed a tear at night, just thinking about it, but that was also my motivation the next day to prove that I could get back to that level.

BP: Were there any veterans at that time who took you under their wing and tried to help you through the process?

RG: When I first came up as a Brave I had some wonderful players that were around the game a long time. Dale Murphy was one of my favorite players, and favorite people. Multiple MVPs, and just a wonderful human being. I think he helped me as much as anybody has, along with guys like Glenn Hubbard and Ken Griffey Sr., guys like that. For those guys to be willing to help a younger player like myself was gratifying.

BP: Continuing through your career, you returned to Atlanta, and to a team that suddenly came together as a National League champion in 1991 and 1992. How was it for you to go through that process but come up just short?

RG: In the years before we first started winning in Atlanta in '91, on a good night we'd only have 15,000 people in the seats, so it was a series of extremes. We went from one extreme in '90 to another in '91, when you couldn't get a seat in that place. It was wonderful for me to be a part of turning that organization around and going to the World Series those years, and putting up terrific numbers with the Braves. Of course, then came the motorcycle accident in '94, and that changed everything.

BP: To be such a big part of those Atlanta teams, and then after you broke your leg, to find yourself so suddenly on the street corner, there had to have been some bitter feelings. Still, you moved to Cincinnati in '95, became Comeback Player of the Year and again a National League All-Star. To reestablish yourself so quickly on the major league scene, was that the primary turning point of your career?

RG: Absolutely. I felt like I was going to be a Brave my whole career. That was one of my goals, and something I thought would happen, simply because I had put up such good numbers there, and I had helped that team get to the World Series a couple of times. It hurt, having to start all over again with a different ballclub, and having to adjust to the physical part of coming back from the leg injury. But, I did a pretty good job of it in '95 and had a pretty good year in Cincinnati.

BP: Earlier, you mentioned how keeping in shape has extended your career. Around baseball, you are considered a workout warrior. What's your workout routine during the off-season?

RG: It's pretty strenuous, because I don't just do weight lifting and weight training. I do a lot of cardio stuff, I do a lot of stretching, and a lot of martial arts, so it pretty much fills up your days in the off-season. But, it's definitely worth it, because when spring training rolls around you're in shape and you feel like there's nothing you can't accomplish. I've pretty much taken that path my whole career.

BP: When I spoke to Ryan Klesko the other day, he mentioned how surfing has improved his flexibility throughout his career, and has helped keep him healthier and allowed him to avoid the disabled list. Do you feel your dedication to stretching has helped you in a similar fashion?

RG: I definitely agree with that. To be an athlete, you have to stretch. You have to be loose. You know, swimming is probably one of the best things you can do to strengthen your muscles and your tendons, because the resistance is so strong. I can see where Ryno gets that. Paddling out there on that board against the waves, and then riding it back in, that's got to be pretty tough.

BP: You're now in the role of the veteran player who has seen and done it all in the game of baseball. Last year, you were part of a San Diego clubhouse that had rookies coming in and out like a revolving door. What wisdom do you try and impart to the younger players you encounter?

RG: Everybody knows that the game of baseball is mostly mental. Everybody here physically can do it; that's why they're here. But the mental part of the game is definitely different. There are times when I need help as a player; that's why we have hitting instructors and those kinds of guys, to help you through the course of the season. I try to make it easier on the younger players when they are going through tough times, and try to keep their minds in a positive position, because it's very easy to get negative in this game. I feel like I can help these guys kind of avoid some of those things if I share my experiences and my knowledge with them.

BP: As you look ahead to 2003 and the upcoming season with the Oakland A's, what are your hopes and expectations for this team?

RG: This is a great ballclub. It's a tight-knit group of guys. These guys are all like family here. It's a great atmosphere in the clubhouse and on the field, and the guys enjoy being around each other. I think the main goal, of course, is to get to the World Series and win it. We've been close a few years here, to that, and we want to take that last step. I think everybody has that same goal, and that's what makes this ballclub so good, because everybody wants to take that last step.

Craig Elsten works for KOGO Radio in San Diego as the pregame/postgame co-host for the Padres. He has also served as the Cactus League play-by-play voice of MLB Radio, and regularly beats Joe Sheehan in Strat-O-Matic baseball. He's filing a series of articles from spring training in Arizona over the next few days. You can reach him at celsten@clearchannel.com.

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