The end of July can be a nervous time for Major League Baseball players because that's the deadline for when they can be moved without first clearing waivers. In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, Washington infielder Ronnie Belliard was on the radar of a couple of teams looking to add some depth. It turned out, though, that he was on the Nationals' radar as well.
08/03/2007 11:54 PM ET
Ronnie Belliard is fitting into Nats' plans
By Hal Bock / MLBPLAYERS.com
Belliard, who was signed by Washington in February to a Minor League contract, is going nowhere after signing a two-year contract extension. The Nationals have been delighted with what he's brought to the team, even if it didn't include his World Series ring.
After winning the Series with the Cards last October, Belliard's ring still hadn't arrived by mid-July. Too bad. It would be a nice piece of jewelry to show off in the Washington clubhouse, a reminder of what the young Nationals are playing for.
The ring delay was nothing compared to the time it took for Belliard's phone to ring during the winter when he was on the free agent market.
"I thought somebody's going to call," he said. "For sure. Somebody's going to call."
That seemed reasonable. Belliard was a career .272 hitter over nine Major League seasons, averaging 30 doubles a year. He was an All-Star with Cleveland in 2004, and a useful player in previous stops with Milwaukee, Colorado and St. Louis.
But the phone stayed silent until the Nationals came along. Belliard welcomed their interest and the fact that Manny Acta had signed on to manage the team. He had played for Acta, who managed the Dominican team in the World Baseball Classic and also in the Dominican Winter League with the champion Licey Tigers, so there was an instant comfort zone and an easy transition.
"I figured, I'll come and help them win," he said.
And he has, hitting over .300 as a steady contributor in a batting order that needs all the offense it can muster.
Belliard made the Nationals roster out of Spring Training, and when shortstop Christian Guzman went down for the season with an injury, Acta plugged Felipe Lopez in at short and turned second base over to Belliard.
It's a move Washington has not regretted.
Belliard has the right DNA, too. He is a cousin of former Atlanta shortstop and current Detroit Tigers infield coach Raphael Belliard. And Ronnie's father, Diogenes, was a power hitter in the Dominican Republic.
More important to Washington is the positive impact Belliard has made in the Nationals' lineup and clubhouse.
"We like Ronnie very much," general manager Jim Bowden said when he signed Belliard to the extension. "He's been a great contributor for us. He's got a good work ethic. He cares about winning. We all saw what he did with the Cardinals last season."
Traded by Cleveland to St. Louis in the kind of deadline deal he avoided this year, Belliard was a solid piece in the Cardinals' run to the World Series championship. He started 14 of 16 postseason games at second base and batted a combined .272 with 30 doubles, 13 homers and 67 RBIs for the Indians and Cardinals last season.
By signing with the Nationals, Belliard's role changed significantly. He was a peripheral player with the Cards on a team where he was surrounded by high profile players like Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen. With the Nationals, he's more of a mainstay, a centerpiece in a young lineup.
"We feel he'll be a positive contributor to our future," Bowden said.
That suits Belliard just fine.
"They have a good thing going here," he said. "These young guys, they want to win. I love the city and I like the guys. I like being around these guys. They have a plan."
And that plan includes Belliard.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.