Minor Stars

Real-Life Crash Davises—The Best Players You Probably Never Heard Of

While Howard enjoys the work, he disagrees with the Crash Davis analogy, saying, "You know how movies are." But he admits how teams could envision a player like him in that role. "I've been in four organizations and I've earned a reputation as a quality person who knows the game," he says.

Duquette says Met manager Bobby Valentine "talked to him a lot in the dugout during spring training and liked what he heard. He sees the game differently than most. As long as he wants to stay in coaching with us, we want to keep him. You always talk about players as coaches, but the key is the player has to be ready to shut off playing."

One "Crash Davis" eager to get into coaching is former Yankee farmhand Carlos Garcia. A veteran utility infielder who spent 10 years in the majors, mostly with Pittsburgh, Garcia, 34, became an important part of the Yankee system at Triple A Columbus over the past two seasons, thanks to his work with the Bombers' young prospects, particularly those of Latin descent. Second baseman Alfonso Soriano, who just came off a successful rookie season in the Bronx, had played with Garcia briefly in the minors in 2000 and tells the Voice the older player's support and tutelage "meant a lot" to him.

According to sources in the Yankee administration, there has been discussion of hiring Garcia as an instructor within the system as soon as next season, something he would love to do once his playing days are over. "When you get to be my age and you're in the minors, you're swimming against the tide," says Garcia. "I enjoy teaching the game and working with younger players. If an organization wants me around to do that, I'd love the opportunity."

"When Carlos decides he doesn't want to play anymore," says Mark Newman, the Yankees' senior vice president of baseball operations, "he'll be able to do a lot in baseball, because he has the respect of the people he works with—the front office, the coaches, and the players."

Back on the ice, the Devils, noted for developing young talent, give a lot of credit to Sylvain Cloutier, currently in his second year as captain of their AHL affiliate in Albany. According to Devil president and GM Lou Lamoriello, Cloutier was signed as a minor-league free agent two years ago "for his character, and with the idea of putting him with our younger players." So far, he has played with, and influenced, many of Jersey's current stars, including Colin White and Mike Commodore, as well as possible future ones such as Brian Gionta, Scott Clemmensen, and Max Birbraer.

That said, Cloutier, older brother of former Ranger and current Vancouver netminder Danny Cloutier, still aspires to be a regular player in the NHL, though at 27, he has skated in only seven NHL games in nine years as a pro (with no goals). "If it stops being my goal, I should stop playing, because that means my heart isn't in it anymore," he says.

Lamoriello couldn't agree more, which is why the Devils gave Cloutier a chance to make the big club during training camp in September. "It wouldn't be fair to him otherwise," explains the GM, illustrating the conundrum these older players create. "We want him to still have that fire. You want to show these players how much you appreciate what they bring to your organization, so you give them a fair shot to make the big club like everyone else. But it's a delicate balance, because you want solid veterans like them in the minors, around your developing players."

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