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ON BASEBALL

No getting in middle of Garciaparra, Reese

When you watch Pokey Reese, you're probably watching the best defensive shortstop in baseball. The scouts thought that long ago, and with his recent play, that belief has only been confirmed.

So the question may arise: When Nomar Garciaparra returns, would it be better to keep Reese at shortstop and move Garciaparra to second, especially given Garciaparra's pending free agency?

But such a switch isn't practical, even if Reese could become the everyday shortstop next season anyway. Garciaparra is also one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, and coming off an Achilles' problem that has sidelined him for the first two months of the season, it would be unfair physically to ask him to adapt to a new position.

Garciaparra has tried to stay away from the constant speculation.

"That's why I don't pay attention to that stuff," said Garciaparra. "I think that he's a great shortstop. He goes out there and plays a great short and second; whatever he's asked to do. He's got a great glove, there's no doubt about that. He's fun to watch."

Would Garciaparra ever switch positions, as Alex Rodriguez did when he traded to the Yankees?

"It depends on the circumstance, you know what I mean?" said Garciaparra. "When that time comes, it will be dealt with, but nobody has ever asked me to move."

Red Sox owner John Henry did disclose that when the Sox were contemplating acquiring A-Rod back in December, the owner went to Theo Epstein and asked him if Garciaparra would move. Epstein reportedly told Henry that he would not ask a superstar to change positions. That ended any discussion about keeping Garciaparra and A-Rod together, and brought Manny Ramirez into the mix in trade talks with the Texas Rangers.

Of course, A-Rod volunteered to move to third when he knew a deal with the Yankees was close and to head off any problems with Yankees captain Derek Jeter.

"That's the funny thing," recalled Garciaparra. "When they were after A-Rod I figured, `OK, they're going to ask one of us to move.' That's what I was thinking. But that wasn't even a consideration apparently. It was never presented or whatever."

So while Garciaparra may not be opposed to a positional switch, Reese is not A-Rod. Reese is a superb player who makes incredible plays in the hole and also comes in on a slow roller as well as anyone in the game. His throws are strong and accurate, likely coming from his training as a quarterback at Lower Richland High School in Hopkins, S.C. (where the Patriots' David Patten was one of his receivers).

"I've always been a shortstop," Reese said. "I've always loved playing shortstop, but I have won two Gold Gloves as a second baseman. The two positions are different. The pivot is different. You're facing the runner in a different way. Shortstop is a tough position, but I think I could win a Gold Glove if I played it all year, all the time. I was just born to play defense."

Garciaparra said he last played second base in high school. He's never played the position as a professional player, either in the minors or the majors. He arrived in Boston Aug. 31, 1996, and the job has been his ever since. The incumbent shortstop in '96, John Valentin, was recovering from a left shoulder injury. After returning from a stint on the disabled list, Valentin split time between second and third.

The following spring, new manager Jimy Williams anointed Garciaparra the starter at short, prompting a brief Valentin walkout. Valentin moved to second and eventually to third.

Surely, all shortstops eventually move to either third or second when age creeps in, though Barry Larkin still plays the position for the Reds at age 40. Cal Ripken moved to third. Ernie Banks moved to first. Rico Petrocelli moved to third. And there's no telling how long Garciaparra, 31, will be good enough to play the position.

Reese was kidding yesterday about all of the places he's played. He's played third base for the Reds, and one spring training, they experimented with him as a center fielder but, "I kept running into the wall." Though he has not yet played the position he was signed to play, he doesn't believe there will be much of a transition. Last week when the team was in Tampa Bay, Reese took grounders at second base. He did the same Wednesday night at Fenway. In the timing-is-everything department, Reese bobbled a grounder in the second inning of last night's 15-2 shellacking that opened the floodgates for three A's runs."I'm going to just get to the point," Reese said. "We made the errors, they cashed in, and they beat our butt." As for what the future holds, "I'm looking forward to playing shortstop with Pokey when I get a chance," Garciaparra said. "I mean, I've been lucky here because I've played with a lot of good second basemen. I've been through a lot of them, but I figure if I have to go through a lot of them, I'd might as well play with the great ones. And playing with Pokey is going to be special."

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