Former Cards shortstop Renteria finds comfort zone with Braves

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

After a rough 2005 season in Boston, Renteria is among the league's batting leaders.

ATLANTA -- Edgar Renteria never felt comfortable in the glaring spotlight of Boston.

Too much attention. Too much second-guessing. Too much pressure.

After one mediocre season with the Red Sox, Renteria returned to more agreeable surroundings in the National League. Now, this is more like it. Quicker games. Plenty of strategy. And, most important, a chance to fit right in with the laid-back Atlanta Braves.

And Renteria again is playing like one of the best shortstops in baseball.

"We know how challenging the environment in Boston has been to certain players," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said. "It happens to a lot of guys in that environment. Some environments are so intense that it's hard to be natural in what you do."

Renteria sure looks more like himself in Atlanta.

He went into the weekend among the NL's top 10 batters with a .333 average. His on-base percentage (.408) also ranked among the league leaders. He started the season with a 23-game hitting streak, longest in the majors this season.

Renteria also has improved defensively. After leading the big leagues with 30 errors a year ago, he was charged with only four through his first 31 games with the Braves.

"He's the same ol' Edgar he's always been in the National League," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. "He was only out of it one year. It doesn't look like he's changed a lick."

Marcus Giles, the Braves' second baseman, said he can see why Renteria struggled to fit in with the high-profile Red Sox.

"Edgar is not big on fame. He doesn't worry about the glory," Giles said. "He just wants to win the ballgame. He's an old-school, blue-collar player. He likes to get dirty. He likes to sweat a bit. He likes to bleed a bit. Anything he can do to help his team win."

Renteria had his best seasons in the NL with Florida and St. Louis, highlighted by a dynamic 2003 with the Cardinals: a .330 average, 13 homers, 100 RBIs and 34 stolen bases.

The Red Sox were looking for those kind of numbers when they signed Renteria to a four-year, $40 million contract after winning their first World Series championship in 86 years. Instead, he started 0-for-10, batted .228 in April and wound up getting booed most of the season as he struggled to live up to expectations.

"That's one of the things I thought about before I signed with Boston. I put it in my mind that I wanted to have a good start, but that's something I can't control," Renteria said. "When you start like that, it's tough. I don't recommend that to anybody."

His final numbers -- .276, eight homers, 70 RBIs -- would be acceptable for most shortstops, but they weren't good enough for the hard-to-please fans of Boston, especially when the Red Sox failed to make it back to the World Series.

Renteria had no problems with his Red Sox teammates. He had plenty of fun in a clubhouse filled with all sorts of wild characters, but it was the other things that got him down: the extensive media coverage, the rabid fans, the talk-show chatter.

"If you do good, everybody likes you," he said. "If you do bad, everybody hates you."

Renteria wasn't used to getting booed at home. He wasn't prepared to have every at-bat analyzed, every error scrutinized.

"It's not for me," he conceded. "If you think you're going to play good every day, to me, that's wrong. If you think you're going to play bad every day, that's wrong, too. You don't want to feel like that. You don't want to put pressure on yourself that you have to do this, you have to do that."

Realizing he was out of place in Beantown, the Red Sox put Renteria on the trade market. The Braves quickly put in a call after their longtime shortstop, Rafael Furcal, signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Atlanta gave up one of its top minor-league prospects, Andy Marte, but the Red Sox were so eager to unload Renteria that they agreed to pay $8 million of the $26 million still owed the shortstop, plus a $3 million buyout if the Braves decline his option in 2009.

"We're fortunate to have him," Giles said. "If you ask me, I think we pretty much stole him from the Red Sox."

Indeed, the deal has worked out just fine for the Braves so far.

They've got a cheaper shortstop than Furcal -- he signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Dodgers -- and Renteria is off to a much better start. Furcal was struggling to get his average out of the low .200s in Los Angeles.

"We admired Raffy and appreciated what he did for us," Schuerholz said. "But once he decided to take a larger pile of money from Los Angeles, we had to react quickly. In three days, we made the deal for Edgar. We felt so strongly about it, that we traded the best [minor league] position player in our organization. There are people who believe Andy Marte is going to be a star someday. But we needed a shortstop, and we needed someone of Edgar's caliber."

Plus, Schuerholz added, "They picked up about half of his salary. Let's not forget that."

Renteria is only 30, but he said the youthful Braves make him feel much younger. The enthusiasm of players such as Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann rekindled his passion for the game after the joyless season in Boston.

"I feel like I'm 20 years old because of all the young players," Renteria said. "We've got energy. It's good. You feel good around these guys. That's why I think I feel more comfortable here."

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