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BASEBALL Eckstein fills hole at shortstop for Cards



Published: Fri, January 7, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Anaheim had released the 30-year-old outright in December.

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- David Eckstein is ready for the challenge of replacing Edgar Renteria as the St. Louis Cardinals' starting shortstop.

"All my life, people have underestimated what I do," he said during a conference call Wednesday. "What I do, it does not look natural. [But] I think you'll be happy with the job I do."

Cut loose by Anaheim on Dec. 20, Eckstein agreed three days later to a $10.25 million, three-year contract with the Cardinals.

Eckstein, 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds, made it to the major leagues despite his small size. He says his family is used to overcoming obstacles.

His two sisters and one of his two brothers, as youths, underwent extensive dialysis and kidney transplants. Eckstein's mother even donated a kidney to one daughter.

The organ recipients have done well; two of the siblings have earned law degrees, the third a master's. But lately, Eckstein's father has been hospitalized -- not for kidney disease that has required dialysis, but for surgery to repair complications from breaking his ribs in a fall, an injury worsened by his two-week lag in getting medical attention.

David Eckstein is free of kidney disease, so when it comes to baseball, he says "it's hard to complain."

Filling the holes

Eckstein, who turns 30 on Jan. 20, was the second major off-season acquisition for the Cardinals, who obtained 17-game winner Mark Mulder from Oakland for right-handers Dan Haren and Kiko Calero, and catching prospect Daric Barton. They still need a second baseman to replace Tony Womack, who signed with the Yankees, and Roberto Alomar appears to be a leading contender.

Expected to replace Womack as the Cardinals' leadoff hitter, Eckstein batted .276 with two homers, 35 RBIs and 92 runs last season. He was the AL's second-hardest player to strike out, with just 49 in 566 at-bats, and led major league shortstops with a .988 fielding percentage, committing just six errors.

Eckstein was a fan favorite in Anaheim, helping the Angels win the 2002 World Series. Last month, he chose the Cardinals because they aggressively pursued him and he likes their chances of returning to the World Series.

He's taking over at shortstop from a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, joining a team where memories of Ozzie Smith's defense are still fresh.

"I'm glad I'm part of this lineup and I can't wait to try to be a part of it," Eckstein said. "I think I ended up in a place that will be a great fit. To be wanted by a club that has a great opportunity to win a championship, I feel lucky."




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