Wilkerson just wants a home
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
It looked as if he was finally settled, one team playing in one city for one whole season. Unpack your bags and settle in.
Brad Wilkerson's bags are packed again, headed for Arizona (for spring training) and then to Arlington, Texas, traded to the Rangers just when he was starting to get used to a new city and new ballpark.
"It was good I did all this while I was young," Wilkerson said. "If I was a veteran, I would have been very unhappy."
Wilkerson left Florida with a trail of brilliance after his junior year and made the jump to the major leagues three years later. By then, the Montreal Expos were an organizational mess and eventually would play some of their home games in Puerto Rico.
When you have to go on the road to play home games, the season can be trying.
"It was, to say the least, tough on everybody," Wilkerson said. "Going through what I went through, I try to look at it as a learning experience. It was like playing on the road all the time.
"It's a long season even if you play all of your games on one field. With what we had to do, it made it even harder. I know fatigue set in on the team."
Wilkerson had success in Montreal despite being shoved into the unfamiliar leadoff spot. Last year, the team moved to Washington, D.C., and became the Nationals.
But injuries were the new problem for the guy who was arguably the best player ever to play baseball at UF. A sore forearm turned into a sore hand and eventually a chipped bone in his hand, which led to a sore shoulder.
Instead of resting his original injury, Wilkerson kept playing through the pain and made things worse.
"The biggest thing I learned from last year," he said, "was that sometimes you just have to sit down."
Wilkerson's numbers dropped as he hit only eight home runs and batted .248, dropping his career batting average to .256. Still, he was looking forward to a new season in Washington before the winter meetings became a trade show.
"I was shocked," he said. "I felt like in a sense I was becoming a player who was coming into my own. I had been with one organization and we finally were settled. So I was kind of shocked.
"I still don't know what to expect. But the way they have treated me so far, there's a big difference in the organizations. They're committed to winning. They've got some great hitters behind me."
Wilkerson expects to bat leadoff for the Rangers as well, despite having only 43 stolen bases in his career.
"I'm still not your prototypical leadoff hitter," said Wilkerson, who batted third for most of his career as a Gator. "I certainly didn't see myself as a leadoff hitter coming out of college. But I hit to the gaps and can steal a few bases, so it should be fun."
He leaves for his West Palm Beach on Feb. 12 for a quick trip to his birthplace of Owensboro, Ky., along with his girlfriend and two children (26 months and four months). Then, it's off to spring training for what he hopes will be some stability.
"I'm really excited to get started," he said. "I think this is the best opportunity of my career so far."
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