Roger Will-Go The Mets' Roger Cedeno dashed to the fore while subbing for his hero

May 30, 1999

Rickey Henderson can't tell Roger Cedeno all his secrets. How to
time a pitcher's move to first? Sure. Where to find a decent
pastrami sandwich in Manhattan? No problem. The goods,
however--well, the goods simply come with years in the big
leagues. Henderson, for example, has learned all the little
moves and feints that can turn the calmest of pitchers into
Jell-O; he knows how to make infielders adjust to him; he can
read a catcher like a kindergarten primer. There's no way to
simply hand that sort of knowledge to another player. "He's a
quick learner," says Henderson of Cedeno, his fellow Mets
outfielder and base stealer. "He'll figure it out." Maybe sooner
rather than later. In 43 games with New York, through Sunday,
Cedeno was batting .325 with 29 runs and 22 stolen bases, best
in the National League.

"Roger's on his way," says Mets first base coach Mookie Wilson.
"I don't think anyone here expects him to hit .340, but he's
figuring out pitchers very quickly. All he wants to do is learn,
especially about running. The guy lives for being on base."

More important for the Mets, the 24-year-old Cedeno has ably
filled in for Henderson, who missed 22 games in April and May
with hamstring and knee injuries. "When we acquired Roger, we
knew he had a tremendous amount of talent," says Steve Phillips,
the New York general manager who obtained Cedeno last fall as
part of a three-way deal also involving the Dodgers and the
Orioles, "but until a young player proves himself, talent
doesn't get you much."

Just dreams. As a boy in Valencia, Venezuela, Cedeno was a
dreamer. He would catch as many U.S. major league games on TV as
possible, paying special attention to a swagger-stepping leadoff
hitter, a guy with the thick calves and dangling fingers, a guy
with the headfirst slide, a guy in green and gold. Simply put,
Cedeno worshiped Henderson, then in his heyday with the A's and
on his way to the major league record for stolen bases, from his
crouched stance to his snatch catch. "He was the Man in so many
ways," says Cedeno, looking across the New York clubhouse,
watching Henderson dealing cards. Cedeno speaks very softly, in
bursts of broken English. He smiles a lot. He played his first
game of baseball at age four--the same year Henderson was a
rookie. "When I was younger, I told my brother, 'I want to be
just like Rickey Henderson.'" A big grin. "Here we are--in the
same place."

Cedeno understands the improbability of it all. Three seasons
back Los Angeles tagged Cedeno as a star of the future. Then he
started striking out a lot. Confidence was lost. He took to
sulking. "It's hard to do well when the team doesn't believe in
you," he says, reflecting on last season's 240-at-bat, .242
fiasco. "I would go 0 for 4 with the Dodgers one day and 4 for 4
the next, and then be on the bench for three or four days. To
me, that's not the right way to treat a person." By the time
Phillips and the Mets came calling, L.A. was more than willing
to include Cedeno as a throw-in in the Todd Hundley-Charles
Johnson-Armando Benitez blockbuster. Thus far he's been the best
of the bunch.

"All I ever wanted was a chance," says Cedeno, who signed with
the Dodgers as a 16-year-old. "I've always had confidence in
myself, but now I can play regularly, contribute and show people
I have the ability to win." He looks back toward Henderson, the
card game. "Here, how can I complain?"

--J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: AL BELLO/ALLSPORT

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)