Red beard at heart

Tuesday, June 26, 2007
The Cardinals' Scott Spezio connected for a double during a game last week against the Kansas City Royals. The utility player, who has become a fan favorite in St. Louis, has played six positions for the Cardinals this season and seen increased time in the field. (TOM GANNAM ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- Scott Spiezio stopped dyeing his wispy soul patch St. Louis Cardinal red a few weeks ago, satisfying the demands of superstitious teammates thinking a fashion makeover might help halt one of the team's many slumps.

But only for a short time. The distinctive look that sported legions of imitators, male and female, young and old, during the team's drive to a World Series championship last fall is back.

"It was probably six or eight of the players that were saying something's got to change, and I said 'All right,' but just for a little bit," Spiezio said. "I missed it. I felt like I was cheating myself."

Spiezio broke out the dye bottle for the first time when he signed a minor-league deal with the Cardinals before the 2006 season, beginning his comeback. He made the team and earned a $4.2 million, two-year contract last winter.

Recently, the utilityman, who played five positions last year and batted .571 with runners in scoring position during the postseason, has been playing at near-regular status. His bat has helped keep hope alive for the Cardinals during a frustrating, injury-plagued and inconsistent season.

The Cardinals' Scott Spiezio stopped dyeing his beard a few weeks ago, but has returned to the look. (JEFF ROBERSON ~ Associated Press)

Spiezio was batting .382 (14-for-34) with two of his three home runs during a nine-game hitting streak through Saturday. The last six games of the run he had reached base in 17 of 30 plate appearances.

"Pretty soon I'm going tell them, 'Bench me or trade me,"' Spiezio joked. "I'm getting too old for this stuff. ... Nah, I feel good."

Spiezio, 34, is the first to admit he's less than Gold Glove material at many of the positions he's manned. He and the Cardinals consider first base his best spot, and there's almost zero chance of much playing time there because of Albert Pujols.

Starting in right field on Wednesday he caught a first-inning drive by the Royals' John Buck at the warning track and then stumbled to his knees reaching for a wall that was still a few steps back. He botched an easy grounder Sunday for an error. Taking choppy steps, he closed in on fly balls.

"I'm not perfect out there by any means," Spiezio said. "I'm just trying to have fun, make the routine plays and contribute with the bat."

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa likes his bat and his full-out attitude.

"He gives you a competitor, that's the No. 1 thing I like about him," La Russa said. "Sometimes you see plays not get made and at-bats that are not good, but Scott's always into it.

"That's why I like playing him whenever possible."

La Russa said Spiezio's bat fits "anyplace in the order," again because of his inner drive.

"I don't know if playing him in center field would really be playing to his strengths, but I'd put him at shortstop," La Russa said. "If the ball came to him, he'd go after it."

Spiezio started two consecutive games at second base last week ahead of Adam Kennedy, giving the Cardinals an offensive boost, and got another start at second Saturday, going 2-for-3 with a walk.

Spiezio added a sixth position earlier this month in Oakland, pitching a scoreless eighth inning to provide relief for a worn-out bullpen. He was the first Cardinals player to pitch since Cody McKay worked two scoreless innings against the Brewers on April 8, 2004.

He also has four pinch hits and leads the team with five pinch-hit RBIs.

"Wherever I play, I'll try to fake it," Spiezio said. "I try to do the best I can, and that's all you can expect."

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