Dominican Redbirds begin late arrivals

Friday, February 24, 2006

The four players who encountered visa problems are expected to practice today.

JUPITER, Fla. -- Better late than never, new St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Juan Encarnacion showed up for spring training on Thursday after battling visa problems and a missed flight.

Three other Dominican players with visa problems -- infielders Hector Luna and Deivi Cruz and pitcher Juan Mateo -- were expected in camp today. Encarnacion did not work out Thursday but is expected to today.

"I'm glad it's over," Encarnacion said. "I just wanted to be here with the other guys and meet with everyone. I knew that at some point I was going to be here. I'm here now and we'll move forward."

The visa issue was worked out Wednesday, but Encarnacion, Cruz and Mateo missed flights from the Dominican Republic to Miami, delaying their arrival in Jupiter. While Encarnacion was the only one to show up Thursday, Mateo and Cruz are in Jupiter, and Luna is expected to arrive shortly, Cardinals spokesman Brian Bartow said.

Even without the Latin American players, manager Tony La Russa has liked what he has seen with the exhibition season approaching.

"I haven't seen anyone in camp I would hesitate to use in a spring training game," La Russa said. "Everyone is working hard."

After so many years as a National League powerhouse -- the Cardinals have been in three of the past four NL Championship Series -- La Russa worried about complacency.

"We've been contending for a number of years," La Russa said. "What you have to be careful about is that it's not automatic. You have to make a commitment. At some point, you can see whether a guy is just putting in time or trying to get something out of it. There are no guarantees with this club, but on paper we've got a real chance again."

The Cardinals announced that pitcher-turned-outfielder Rick Ankiel and pitchers Brad Thompson and Anthony Reyes agreed to terms, which were not disclosed. Ankiel had been a concern because he had run out of options.

"Now I can go out there and just concentrate on playing," said Ankiel, who has been taking a lot of practice in the outfield. "Every day I seem to be getting a little more comfortable. The more I see of it, the better off I'll be."

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