Ugueth Urbina has always done things his own way--and that way is
sometimes unusual. As the Marlins' closer during their 2003
championship run, Urbina, 30, memorably kissed his catcher, Ivan
Rodriguez, after Game 1 of the World Series, one of two he saved
against the Yankees. He requested a World Series ring that would
fit on his thumb. Now he's off on his own again. After Florida
didn't offer him a contract last fall, Urbina became a free
agent. Not satisfied with the offers he has received, he spends
his time living at the rented Tucson home of White Sox manager
Ozzie Guillen, a longtime friend. "That's where he is every day,"
Guillen says. "At my house, eating with my kids."
Has a World Series closer turned into Ugie Poppins? His agent,
Peter Greenberg, says Urbina, who has 206 career saves, took a
pay cut from $6.7 million to $4.5 million in '03 and won't accept
another. Meanwhile, the market for closers isn't strong. Boston
gave Keith Foulke $25.5 million for four years, and Seattle
signed Eddie Guardado to a three-year, $13 million deal. But
other teams who need a stopper are being frugal. Defending AL
Central champ Minnesota gave its job to Joe Nathan, who has one
career save and makes $300,000; Florida replaced Urbina with
Armando Benitez, who will earn $3.3 million. Says Greenberg,
"Teams interested in him--the Twins, Pirates, Expos--just haven't
had the money." (Urbina didn't help his marketability when he was
involved in a January incident--for which he has not been
charged--in which he allegedly fired a gun from a moving SUV in
his native Venezuela.)
Opponents hit .204 off Urbina last year, and he converted 32 of
38 save opportunities. Plus he has the mind-set of a closer.
"Guys like Urbina get the s--- kicked out of them, then say,
'That's history.' There's no carryover," says Marlins manager
Jack McKeon. Greenberg is hopeful but says Urbina could play in
Japan or retire. "Ugueth is just a tough guy," Greenberg says.
"Friends have been calling, saying, 'Don't do this.' Ugueth is
saying, 'I'm going to do what I want to do.'"
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO (URBINA) JOB PITCH Five months after celebrating with Rodriguez, Urbina islooking for work.
COLOR PHOTO: EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES (URBINA AND RODRIGUEZ)