Richie Sexson's new team offers 'that chance to win again'

PEORIA, Ariz. Ñ Richie Sexson, all arms and legs, frosted hair, and impish smile, walks past Luis Gonzalez on the way to his locker in the visitors' clubhouse, and Gonzalez recoils in mock disgust.

'Getting tired of talking about this guy,' Gonzalez says, as Sexson half-turns with an innocent 'Say what?'

Gonzalez is kidding.

The Arizona Diamondbacks' No. 3 batter and premier everyday player the past five years is thrilled to have Sexson as a teammate. So thrilled that, when asked how Sexson is fitting in, Gonzalez sums it up in one word: 'Perfect.'

'From the day Richie joined us, he's been great with the guys,' Gonzalez says. 'We're excited to have him on our club. He's providing us a legitimate cleanup hitter in our lineup. Personally, I'm excited, because he's the guy hitting behind me for protection. He's something we've been missing the last couple of years. Last year, we were missing a big offensive punch in the middle of our order. This guy is going to provide that for us.'

Sexson has been one of the game's top sluggers the past three years, but he has been wasted in Milwaukee, the L.A. Clippers of American League franchises. He hit 45 home runs in both 2001 and '03, averaged 117 RBIs the last three seasons and made the All-Star Game the last two years, but few noticed as he toiled with the Brewers.

Now the 6-8, 235-pound first baseman is with a contender, three years removed from the 2001 World Series championship, after a nine-player trade last December. The Prairie High graduate and Vancouver, Wash., resident Ñ a courtside-seat fixture at Trail Blazer games through the first half of the season Ñ can hardly believe his good fortune.

'It's that chance to win again,' says Sexson, 29, who made the playoffs his first two big-league seasons with Cleveland but hasn't been back. 'Everybody searches for that as a player. I'm excited about it. And I'm having fun. It's a great group of guys, which has made the transition a lot easier. Everybody gets along. And we have a good team.'

Better since Sexson came aboard.

'Richie is a legit power hitter, a guy who can change the complexion of the game every time he comes to the plate,' says Mark Grace, the former Diamondback first baseman now serving as the team's TV analyst. 'Other than Luis in 2001 (when he hit 57 homers, 26 more than he has in a season before or since), the Diamondbacks have never had a guy like that. Any time a player like that is on a team, it's a welcome addition.'

Especially when he adds to the chemistry. Sexson, happy-go-lucky and a practical joker, has been popular with teammates wherever he's played.

'Richie has been a great fit right away,' manager Bob Brenly says. 'We knew what to expect from him on the field, but until you get a guy in your clubhouse to see how he fits in with his teammates, you're really never sure.

'I don't know if I've ever seen a guy go to a new team and fit in as quickly as Richie has. He is one of the guys, and he surprised everybody with his work habits down here. And hitting the ball up in the seats every now and again won't hurt anything.'

Batting coach Rick Schu Ñ who spent two-plus seasons as a Portland Beaver in the 1980s Ñ has worked with Sexson's swing this spring.

'Richie is a slugger,' Brenly says. 'Most of his career, he has been all or nothing at the plate Ñ high strikeout totals, high home run totals. We've had a back-to-the-basics approach as far as fundamental hitting with him. We won't ask Richie to bunt much, or to hit behind the runner or hit-and-run. But with two strikes, he can shorten up a little on a swing, make more contact and still have that awesome power he has.

'Ideally, what we're doing will translate into a few more points on the batting average and will not lose anything in the power numbers.'

Says Sexson: 'A good hitting coach like Schuey, he gets a guy back to how he looks when he is going good. That is what we are trying to do this spring.'

Sexson's star power is undeniable. The Diamondbacks' theme for the season, suggests one newspaper columnist, ought to be 'Sexson the City.'

Catchy. And the young slugger has always felt at home in Phoenix.

'He has hit at Bank One (Ballpark) like he owns the place in the past,' Brenly says.

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