Contreras plans to pitch inside -- just like Clemens
who claims to be 31, will battle Jeff Weaver and Sterling Hitch for
the fifth spot in the rotation. AP
NEW YORK (AP) -- Jose Contreras has a nickname as sharp as his pitches:
"El Titan de Bronze."
And, he says, it was given to him by Fidel Castro.
Contreras finally made it to Yankee Stadium on Thursday to finalize his
four-year contract, $32 million contract.
At his introductory news conference, Contreras said the Cuban president
called him "The Titan of Bronze" because the right-hander was the
Cuban ace. The nickname originally belonged to Antonio Maceo, the general who
led the Cuban liberation army against Spain in the 19th century.
Contreras, however, wouldn't say what he thinks about Castro, whose communist
regime has caused many Cuban baseball stars to defect, leaving their families
"I can talk about Cuba. I can talk about Cuban baseball," Contreras
said through a translator. "But I'm not here as a politician to talk about
Dressed in a double-breasted blue-gray suit, the 6-foot-4 right-hander spoke
softly about his departure from Cuba last fall and his hopes to make his mark in
the major leagues.
His model is Roger
Clemens, one of his new teammates in pinstripes. Will the Titan pitch
inside, just like the Rocket?
"Si, si, si," Contreras said, words agent Jaime Torres didn't need
"That's the difference for a pitcher," Contreras said. "That's
how a pitcher lives, pitching inside."
Asked what he admired in Clemens, Contreras cited "great, incredible
physical condition and abilities," "pitching strategy" and
"guts and bravado."
Contreras, who has a burly chest and tree-trunk legs, will get to start
showing his stuff next week, when the Yankees open spring training in Tampa,
Fla. He'll be scrutinized along with the team's other new foreign acquisition,
outfielder Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui.
"These people have been superstars in their respective leagues,"
said Yankees manager Joe Torre, looking tan following a six-week vacation in
Maui. "I'm curious. I really am. They're both going to need interpreters.
But I bet they understand each other."
Contreras did not get quite the welcome given Matsui, a three-time MVP in
Japan. When Matsui was introduced Jan. 14, the Yankees held a news conference at
a Times Square hotel, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was the official
Thursday's fiesta was held in the Stadium Club of Yankee Stadium, and Bronx
Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. welcomed him "on behalf of all New
Yorkers and 1.4 million residents of the Bronx, many of Latino descent."
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner allowed Contreras to use a private plane to
travel to New York from Florida on Wednesday, and briefly came aboard to meet
his latest acquisition for the first time.
Contreras left the Cuban team in October when it was playing in Mexico. He
didn't tell his teammates his plans, didn't tell his two daughters, aged 2 and
10, according to the Yankees.
Once he established residency in Nicaragua and became a free agent, the
Yankees won quickly in bidding that also included Boston and Seattle.
"Since I left Cuba, my dream was to be a Yankee," Contreras said.
New York general manager Brian Cashman likes Contreras for his 95 mph
fastball, tough split-finger pitch and slider. The Yankees had been tracking
Contreras at tournaments since 1996 and decided after his standout performance
in the 2000 Sydney Olympics that they would try to sign him if he ever became
Contreras knows he might not even start because the Yankees have seven
candidates for their rotation heading to spring training.
"I've always been a starter, and I would prefer to remain a
starter," he said. "But I'm willing and ready to do anything the
Yankees ask me to do. I'm the last one to arrive. I understand that."
Notes: The Yankees said that while 2B Alfonso
Soriano withdrew from a home run-hitting contest this weekend claiming a
sore shoulder, he hadn't reported any injury to the team. ... Cashman said that
barring injury, Matsui has permission to play for Japan in Olympic qualifying in
November. ... LHP Randy Keisler was released.
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