Nobody would have blamed Kevin West if he had shown up in Winnipeg this summer a bitter man.
West had a tremendous spring training with the Cincinnati Reds this year, lighting it up in Triple-A and even getting two hits off Colorado Rockies pitching in a major league game.
It was just the kind of performance West needed to get the Reds to overlook his age -- 30 -- and focus instead on his abilities.
And it still wasn't good enough.
A former Triple-A prospect with both the Minnesota Twins and the Texas Rangers, West got nothing for his efforts this spring than another major league team to add to the list of clubs who have studied -- and then passed on -- the 6-2, 210-pound hard hitting outfielder.
But to West's everlasting credit, he showed up for his third spring training with the Winnipeg Goldeyes this year with neither a chip on his shoulder nor bitterness in his heart. "At the end of the day," West explained on Monday, "I just love baseball.
"And when I'm done, I'd like to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, 'You did a good job, you did your best.' I don't want to embarrass myself out there. I want people to see I'm a good ballplayer."
And so rather than dwelling on the disappointment of the past, West focused on the present in Winnipeg and put together what is shaping up to be his best offensive season yet as a member of the Goldeyes.
Yesterday, West got his reward when he was named to the Northern League all-star team that will travel to Tucson, Ariz. next week to play against the best of the Golden Baseball League in the first-ever interlocking midsummer classic between the two leagues.
West, who's second in the league in hitting this season, was one of three Goldeyes named to the Northern League squad -- shortstop Wes Long (third in the batting race) and starting pitcher Chris Salamida (leading the league in strikeouts) were the others.
The Fish could have had as many as five players on the all-star roster. Starting pitcher Mark Holliman was a shoe-in for the team with his dominating performances for the Goldeyes this season, but Holliman's now in the Boston Red Sox organization after his contract was picked up just last week.
"I think Holliman probably could have started the (all-star) game if he was still with us," ventured Goldeyes GM Andrew Collier.
Salamida said he has drawn inspiration from Holliman's signing. "It made me realize there are people looking at what we're doing here," he said by phone from Kansas City, where the Goldeyes were scheduled to play the T-Bones last night. "Maybe there will be another opportunity that will come up for someone like me."
The other Goldeyes player not on the all-star roster announced yesterday, but probably could have been, is Fish DH Juan Diaz, who's currently third in the league in home runs with 11. Diaz had chosen to use the all-star break next week to attend to family at his home in Miami rather than play in the game.
West said he has reconciled what happened with Cincinnati this spring as something beyond his control. "There's so many good ballplayers out there, it's easy to be overlooked," he says. "And I think personally I've been overlooked for a few years now."
But where there's baseball, there's hope and West says his big league dream, for all its crushing disappointments so far, continues to burn brightly. And success -- should it ever come -- would be all the sweeter for it.
"If I get to the major leagues," he says, "it will be a good story."