HARLINGEN — Jose Canseco is playing winter league baseball this weekend at Harlingen Field.
No, that is not a typo. And no, you don’t need to have your vision checked.
Jose Canseco, the former American League MVP who hit 462 career home runs and later admitted to using steroids, is playing for the Texas Winter League.
The league is designed for current and aspiring professional baseball players seeking to improve their skills under the direction of veteran professional baseball managers.
The four-team league began its season earlier this month with two games played each day at Harlingen Field. The season ends Wednesday with a championship and consolation final.
On Friday, Canseco played the first game of the doubleheader for the McAllen Thunder against the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings.
“I love sports, and simply, I love the game. I love it probably more than others,” said Canseco, who turns 49 this July.
“It gives me a reason to stay in shape. I love staying in shape. I think my vice, or my bad habit, or my addiction, is staying in shape,” he said. “Other people have liquor, drugs, or overeating. My addiction is staying in shape.”
Friday’s game probably wasn’t the performance for which Canseco hoped, though, as the former Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics slugger struck out three times and went 0 for 4 at the plate.
But for Canseco, it didn’t matter. He was just glad to be playing the game he loves.
“It felt good. I haven’t picked a bat up in over a year, so I was a little rusty,” Canseco said. “I thought I had good bat speed. My timing was obviously way off. I fouled back about five pitches I should have hit real hard. The pitcher threw well. I’ll get him next time.”
ON THE MOUND
The pitcher who faced Canseco was none other than 2007 Harlingen South graduate Danny Gidora, who also played for the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.
Gidora, the All-Valley MVP who led the Hawks to the state championship title game in 2007, struck out Canseco during the first and third innings, nabbed a sharp comebacker to put Canseco out in the fifth and rung up Canseco in the seventh to end the game.
“It was just an honor to be on the same field as (Canseco),” Gidora said. “I knew that he would definitely be looking for fastballs, so I was just mixing it up.”
After the first at-bat, he said, he got away with a few fastballs.
“And then the second and third one, I definitely had to throw him some off-speed stuff just to get him thinking,” Gidora said. “It was definitely challenging to say the least. I’m mentally exhausted right now.”
A few more than 60 spectators showed up Friday to see Canseco make his Texas Winter League debut.
League officials are expecting a larger crowd for games today and Sunday.
Canseco will suit up for all four Texas Winter League teams — the Thunder, the WhiteWings, the Brownsville All-Stars and the Edinburg Roadrunners — throughout the six-game stretch that started Friday and ends Sunday.
“He’s a person who’s bigger than life,” said Byron Pierce, former owner of the Laredo Broncos who is running the Texas Winter League. “He brings a flair to the ballpark. Whether you love him or hate him, people want to watch.”
Brownsville resident and long-time Canseco fan Roger Garcia came to the ballpark specifically to see “Parkway Joe” in person.
Even though Canseco never reached base, Garcia still felt the chance to see him was “well worth the price of admission.”
“I wasn’t going to miss this,” said Garcia, who had a Canseco rookie card in his pocket that he hoped to have signed after the game. “I like the guy. No matter what he’s done, he’s a nice guy.”
Still, there were a few spectators who were more interested in grilling the baseball bad boy for his past missteps.
“He’s not better than anyone else,” said WhiteWings fan Jackie Beauregard, who enthusiastically cheered after each of Canseco’s three strikeouts.