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Canseco fits in with teammates

Canseco fits in with teammates By PATRICK KINMARTIN-Sports Writer This isn't quite the Jose Canseco that once made young Ryan Webb gush while receiving an autograph from the former Oakland Athletics superstar at the height of his popularity as a player over a decade ago. A step or two slower, burnt down by a 17-year major-league career fueled by a pedal-to-metal mentality and void of those flowing dark locks that once dangled freely behind him, Canseco is now a 42-year-old participating in the Golden Baseball League this season for the mundane thrill of being at the ballpark every day. Yet it's that version of the 1988 American League most valuable player — unflattering as it may be to fans across the nation — Webb and many other members of the Long Beach Armada seem to prefer as teammates of the infamous slugger who unexpectedly joined the organization earlier this month. "He's out there every day early, taking batting practice, taking ground balls, getting in pretty much everything he can," said Webb, a former Chico State player and current Armada center fielder who remembers getting an autograph from Canseco at Anaheim Stadium while growing up in Southern California. "Sometimes you sit there, look at him and think about who he is and what he's done, but when he's out on the field it's pretty clear he's another guy just in love with the game. That's pretty inspirational." Long Beach, which begins a four-game series against the Outlaws at Nettleton Stadium today, had won seven of its 12 games going into a doubleheader against the Reno Silver Sox on Sunday night since Canseco made his debut July 7 after being traded from the San Diego Surf Dawgs to be closer to his Los Angeles-area home. His .280 batting average isn't good enough to rank among the team's top five and his two home runs are a far cry from the club-leading 10 hit by Jeff LaRue. Still, Armada players insist he's made an impact, especially with his apparently genuine approach, something many outsiders questioned when he entered the GBL on the heels of his recent efforts to expose the issue of steroids in Major League Baseball after claiming to be "black balled" by the institution. "This was the closest team I had ever been on before he arrived," Webb said. "Since he's come aboard, nothing has changed. If anything, it has become better. We have a keyboard in the clubhouse we like to bust out and get guys to sing different songs. He got right in on that whole deal right away. You can tell he enjoys being around the guys." Canseco has already treated Armada members to trips out to bars several times after games. Like Webb, who turned 28 in May, many of them weren't even teenagers while Canseco rose to stardom as a key member of the A's teams that dominated the American League in the late 1980s and early 90s. The generation gap has done little to keep him away from the camaraderie. "He"s been a very open, down-to-earth guy," Long Beach outfielder Chris Klemm said. "You feel like you can ask him anything. It was pretty surreal at first, hanging out with him and all, but he's blended in real well. It's not like he's off in the corner doing his own thing." Canseco's stature as a former big-league standout does afford him a few extra benefits in the GBL, including flights on longer trips the rest of the team takes on a bus. "Hey, he's an old guy, he can't handle those bus rides," Klemm said with a chuckle. "It's not a big deal. He has a family unlike most of us, so of course he's going to do his own thing from time to time." On the field, Canseco's biggest asset to the Armada might be his unofficial role as an assistant coach to manager Darrell Evans. Webb said Canseco regularly works one-on-one with power hitters like LaRue, underscoring his teammates belief that his value to the club extends beyond serving as a pawn to sell tickets. "At first we were a little unsure at how this whole thing might play out," Webb said. "It has turned out to be fun, though. It's worked out well for us and definitely him as well."