02/26/09 9:00 AM EST
Guillen hoping to change perceptions
Right fielder looking to move on after tough times last season
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
His first season in Kansas City was a tough one. He ranted, fans booed, he snapped at them, they sniped back. Now Guillen sounds and looks like a man looking for a change.
Guillen seems determined to do his part. He reported to camp as a sleeker model, in much better shape than his 2008 arrival. His daily food intake consists of a special diet that he brings to the ballpark. It's part of the new Jose.
A baseball nomad, Guillen, 32, spent a couple seasons here, one there, two somewhere else and the Royals are his ninth Major League club in 13 seasons. He's been outspoken, outrageous and capable of infuriating managers as well as fans. But he's also powerful and talented and capable of igniting an attack.
The perceived negative, however, often overwhelms the perceived positive.
"I just wish people would know me much better before they talk. I know there are a lot of people that portray me as such a bad guy but, in my heart, I know the type of man I am," Guillen said.
For all his bombastic tendencies, Guillen is an easy man to like. He has a gorgeous smile, inherited from his mother, Modesta, and his heart is big. He's opened his considerable bounty, very quietly, to charities and those in need.
"He came up to me with checkbook in hand before the end of last season and he wanted to know specifically what my favorite charity was," said Royals manager Trey Hillman, "because he wanted to write a check for a very large sum of money for it. That speaks volumes for me."
Sure, Guillen is aware that he's near the bottom of the public perception pole. And he insists he doesn't care all that much about what people think. Or does he?
"I just want people to get to know me very well and get to know the good side of Jose Guillen," he said. "I like to win, I like to compete and I like things right. I don't mess with anybody, I don't lie to people, I don't like people lying to me. I respect the game and, to me, that's very important."
He's not a shy guy
Guillen insists that he respects his teammates but, by golly, once in a while something just needs to be said. And he's the guy who says it.
"I think that's when (people thought) 'OK, what's going on with this guy?' But fans don't know what's going on in the clubhouse or off the field," he said.
Guillen matched his career high by playing 153 games last season despite frequently aching legs. Hillman acknowledged his pain and told Guillen to take it easy, when necessary, on the bases. But when he jogged, the booing inevitably came.
"That was very tough because I've always been the type of guy who always likes to hustle, always like to play hard and run the bases hard," Guillen said. "Unfortunately I couldn't give 100 percent last year running the bases and had a problem with the fans, the way they were screaming at me for the way I was running. But people have to know what's going on first."
Losing gnaws at him and can turn his gentler side into a mass of molten lava.
"I've seen him put his arm around less-experienced players and talk to them as lovingly and caringly as you could ever want to see -- and it's sincere," Hillman said. "I've seen the opposite, too, but the opposite is when that fire can't stay contained and we're not winning ballgames. And he wants to win."
Hillman believes some of Guillen's eruptions, such as when he referred to some teammates as "babies," came out of frustration because he felt he had to carry the team on his shoulders. Guillen shrugs that off, saying he felt no such burden.
"I know what we had last year and I'm not one of those players that says, 'Oh, bring me a player here and give me some protection,' " he said. "Whoever is hitting behind me, it doesn't really matter to me because I consider myself as the type of hitter who just has to look for a good pitch to hit. It's good to have protection behind me but that was never in the back of my mind."
An improving situation
Even so, the situation should be better this year. The addition of slugger Mike Jacobs was designed to give Guillen more protection in the lineup. And a better team with more victories should equate to fewer outbursts.
"He's a very passionate person, he cares a great deal and he's always managed his personal life very well," said Royals general manager Dayton Moore. "I look forward to him contributing this year even more than he did last year. I mean, 20 home runs and 97 RBIs had a big impact on our lineup and we expect him to do even better this year with Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs hitting around him."
In Hillman's view, the increased scrutiny of today's media has put Guillen and others under an intense microscope that wasn't such a factor in the past.
"Twenty-five years ago I think some of the things that Jose Guillen does would be characterized as being an old-style, nose-in-the-dirt ballplayer," Hillman said.
Guillen says he considers his team a second family.
Pitcher Gil Meche heard from a Seattle friend that Guillen would be "an incredible teammate" and he's found that to be true.
"He's just a fiery guy with a fiery personality," Meche said. "You can tell he loves to play the game, he plays hard when he's out there and that's all you ask for -- as a pitcher, especially. You want everybody playing hard behind you, giving their all during a game because that's what I'm doing and he works his butt off."
New Royals infielder Willie Bloomquist lockered next to Guillen when both were with the Mariners in 2007.
"He's a competitor. He's definitely got some old salt in his veins to where he wants to win. He thinks things should be done in a particular way and he's not afraid to speak his mind when it comes to that. You definitely know right where you stand when you talk to him," Bloomquist said.
"He can go the other way and snap but that's the competitor in everybody if you push 'em too far. I've seen him get to that point and take it out on the pitcher the next day, too, and when he does that it's impressive to watch."
'A happy family man'
Guillen's own family is about to grow. His wife, Yamel, next month will present him with a son, Derek. He has two other sons, Jose Jr. and Jose Manuel, who often are clubhouse visitors during the season.
"I'm just a happy family man. I like to be around my kids and my mom and my brothers. I like to spend time at home a lot with my family," he said.
"You never hear anything about me, off the field, getting into any problems. Like getting drunk, getting caught in a club, hitting a woman, off the field messing around. Guys get caught doing this or doing that. I see a lot of players getting into trouble and that's regrettable. Nobody says anything about the good people in baseball. To me that's wrong."
Guillen did have a chapter in baseball's steroids saga, getting a 15-day penalty in 2007 for violation of the Commissioner's Drug Prevention and Treatment program. The suspension was commuted as recommended in the Mitchell Report.
"I'm the type of guy that took full responsibility for what happened," Guillen said. "They did their investigation and I went in there and told the truth. When I met with the Commissioner, I told the truth, what happened and that's exactly what they have in their book."
Truth was important to his father, the late Elvido Guillen. Jose, his four brothers and one sister learned that well.
"He was a real tough guy. That's where I kind of got my toughness from. There was one thing he always told me: Don't ever lie to anybody, always tell the truth, and be respectable," Guillen said.
A glass factory worker, his "old-school" father kept a thick strap handy just in case.
"We knew that whip was already there, waiting for us," he said. "That's one of the reasons I've just been behaving myself and watch where I go and all the people that I hang around. That's the one thing I appreciate my dad teaching me -- how to go in the right direction and be very respectful."
Helping those in need
Elvido Guillen died in 1999 of prostate cancer and fighting that disease has become one of his son's charitable passions.
"I always look for the family that doesn't have anything and has been dealing with this problem and I'm proud of what I've been doing," Guillen said. "I want to get involved in Kansas City and help the people that really need this medicine because I know how expensive it is. Trust me, I know how much money I paid for my father the last three years I was in Pittsburgh. I love to help those people."
He's previously helped folks in his native Dominican Republic and in Miami, where he has a home.
Guillen is also discussing a plan to provide 60 tickets to each Royals home game to kids who can't afford tickets.
"Not a lot of people know what I've done and I like to keep it to myself, but this year I'm going to be a lot more active in the (Kansas City) community," he said. "Because I owe (the Royals) a lot. They brought me here, paid me a lot of money, and I feel like I owe them to be out in the community and help people that really need things."
Hillman has seen all sides of Guillen.
"I've seen the fire burning in his belly to win ballgames but, beyond that, I've seen him do human, loving things for people that he doesn't even know that don't get reported," Hillman said.
For now, Guillen is working hard to get through a sore shoulder that popped up on his first day at camp. He's worked through an ingrown toe nail, yanking it out himself with tweezers. How he does in the next couple of days will determine if he can play next month for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.
A few days ago, there was a news ripple because Guillen, like many Dominican players, had in the past used Angel Presinal, the same trainer as Alex Rodriguez. It always seems to be something with Guillen. He's what's known as a high-maintenance player as Hillman can attest.
"Absolutely, that's a no-brainer, but one of the reasons there's so much maintenance is that the guy wants to win as bad as anybody I've ever seen," Hillman said. "He wants to win."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.