March 14, 2002
By R.B. FALLSTROM
AP Sports Writer
JUPITER, Fla. - Fernando Vina hit .300 and won a Gold Glove last season, and there's no debate for him which he considers more important.
The St. Louis Cardinals' second baseman will take the fielding honor any day.
"I'll tell you what, winning a Gold Glove is the ultimate for myself," Vina said. "I've hit .300 three or four times, and it's special because it's a long grind. But to win a Gold Glove and to play at that level all year long and for the managers to acknowledge that is something special. To be known as the best, that's awesome."
Vina has sought the fielding award since coming to the Cardinals in 2000, even to the point of campaigning in a low-key manner. He led the NL in fielding percentage (.987), total chances (705) and double plays (100) last year.
"I work hard at it, and I like to believe I'm one of the top guys," Vina said. "I think maybe it takes a year for them to notice you, and then another year to get it."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa think Vina easily could have won the award during both of his season in St. Louis.
"I think he's played at a very high level ever since he got here," La Russa said.
But Vina knows he'll have to work hard to get another one. The NL already had several accomplished second basemen before the Mets acquired Roberto Alomar, who has won 12 straight AL Gold Gloves.
"You've still got to go out and work," Vina said. "They're not just going to hand it to you, so I'll keep going about my business."
Vina's signature move is his rapid-fire double-play pivot. The ball is in his glove for only an instant before he reaches and fires to first in a single motion, often in the air.
Teammates at Sacramento City College and Arizona State nicknamed Vina "Nintendo" because he got rid of the ball as fast as video game players. La Russa calls Vina's relay "spectacular."
"I just kind of redirect the ball," Vina said. "That stands out because not every second baseman can do it like that. That opens people's eyes."
Offensively, Vina is a grinder. La Russa said Vina and Placido Polanco are the only players on the Cardinals who never give away an at-bat.
Vina hit .303 last year, his third .300-or-better season, reaching career bests in home runs (nine) and RBIs (56).
"You've always got to be serious up there," Vina said. "Mentally, you've got to be ready to grind it out. That's what got me to where I'm at today."
He didn't think he could give the Cardinals that level of intensity at the start of camp, due to a family situation that distracted him. He arrived in camp about a week late and played in his first game last Tuesday.
"It was a personal matter I needed to take care of, and I don't like to get into it too much because I'm happy and ready to go," Vina said. "I felt rusty the first game, but I played well. And when the season starts I won't be behind at all."
Vina doesn't believe there's much he can improve on. He'd be happy to duplicate last season.
"I always strive to do better," he said. "But if at the end of October you'd tell me I had the same numbers, I'd take it."