Second Baseman Prizes Gold Glove Over Batting Achievements

March 14, 2002

AP Sports Writer

JUPITER, Fla. - Fernando Vina hit .300 and won a Gold Glove lastseason, and there's no debate for him which he considers more important.

The St. Louis Cardinals' second baseman will take the fielding honor anyday.

'I'll tell you what, winning a Gold Glove is the ultimate for myself,' Vinasaid. 'I've hit .300 three or four times, and it's special because it's along grind. But to win a Gold Glove and to play at that level all year longand for the managers to acknowledge that is something special. To be knownas the best, that's awesome.'

Vina has sought the fielding award since coming to the Cardinals in 2000,even to the point of campaigning in a low-key manner. He led the NL infielding percentage (.987), total chances (705) and double plays (100) lastyear.

'I work hard at it, and I like to believe I'm one of the top guys,' Vinasaid. 'I think maybe it takes a year for them to notice you, and thenanother year to get it.'

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa think Vina easily could have won the awardduring both of his season in St. Louis.

'I think he's played at a very high level ever since he got here,' La Russasaid.

But Vina knows he'll have to work hard to get another one. The NL alreadyhad several accomplished second basemen before the Mets acquired RobertoAlomar, who has won 12 straight AL Gold Gloves.

'You've still got to go out and work,' Vina said. 'They're not just going tohand it to you, so I'll keep going about my business.'

Vina's signature move is his rapid-fire double-play pivot. The ball is inhis glove for only an instant before he reaches and fires to first in asingle motion, often in the air.

Teammates at Sacramento City College and Arizona State nicknamed Vina'Nintendo' because he got rid of the ball as fast as video game players. LaRussa calls Vina's relay 'spectacular.'

'I just kind of redirect the ball,' Vina said. 'That stands out because notevery second baseman can do it like that. That opens people's eyes.'

Offensively, Vina is a grinder. La Russa said Vina and Placido Polanco arethe only players on the Cardinals who never give away an at-bat.

Vina hit .303 last year, his third .300-or-better season, reaching careerbests in home runs (nine) and RBIs (56).

'You've always got to be serious up there,' Vina said. 'Mentally, you've gotto be ready to grind it out. That's what got me to where I'm at today.'

He didn't think he could give the Cardinals that level of intensity at thestart of camp, due to a family situation that distracted him. He arrived incamp about a week late and played in his first game last Tuesday.

'It was a personal matter I needed to take care of, and I don't like to getinto it too much because I'm happy and ready to go,' Vina said. 'I feltrusty the first game, but I played well. And when the season starts I won'tbe behind at all.'

Vina doesn't believe there's much he can improve on. He'd be happy toduplicate last season.

'I always strive to do better,' he said. 'But if at the end of October you'dtell me I had the same numbers, I'd take it.'

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