Mr Cellophane Gets Some Recognition

Talk about dwelling in obscurity! Francisco Lizarraga has been in the Dodger system for three years now but don't bother looking him up in the club's media guide because he's not even listed in the minor league section. He played this past season in Mexico but don't try seeking his stats on the internet, either because it wasn't in the Mexican League itself but rather in one that isn't recognized by organized ball so what happens there is never recorded officially.

This is absolutely a candidate to sing "Mr. Cellophane", that lament about going through life totally unrecognized except that this September was the first time he ever set foot in this country, doesn't speak the language so not only doesn't know the song but isn't familiar with "Chicago", the musical from whence it came.

And, of course, the coaches in the Instructional League camp didn't know him, either when he showed up. As a shortstop he was assigned to infield instructor Dave Anderson who admitted, "All I know is that he's a Mexican and played down there."

Good thing that Mike Brito knew of him but, then Mike would. After all, he's the guy who signed him for the Dodgers in 2003. Mike knows everybody associated with the game south of the border. He's been scouting down there so long and so successfully with close to 30 of his players making it to the bigs that he's been voted into that country's baseball Hall of Fame even though he's of Cuban descent himself.

After signing, Lizarraga spent 2003 in the Dominican League where most Latino newbies are sent. Did more than okay, too, hitting .302 but all that earned him was a repeat visit. When he managed only a .246 mark in 2004 he not only fell off the charts, they crossed him out of the media guide.

But he hadn't been released, only loaned to the Mexico City Red Devils (or Los Diablos Rios to be precise). They kept him for a week, decided that he wasn't ready for a Triple A League and dispatched him to a minor league club they maintain in the state of Sonora.

They do have such teams in Mexico for their younger players even if you'll never get to read about them online or anywhere else up here. Brito knows all about them though and he kept his eye on Lizarraga. When the kid hit .345 with four homers, he informed the front office and it was decided to bring him across the Rio Grande to the instructional camp to see what Mike was excited about.

It turned out there was something for Anderson and the others to see. He showed more than enough arm, coordination and range at short to be noticed. He delivered line drives at the plate, too. In one game, he raced far to his left to capture a ground ball seemingly headed through, turned and in one motion threw a one bouncer to first to nail the runner and bring an exclamation of approval from minor league boss Terry Collins.

He was at the plate the next inning and ripped a single to center to start a rally, just to show that he can be a strength in both ends of the game. It's the type of performance that he made throughout the camp.

He's happy to be here and to be a Dodger, he maintains through an interpreter, likes the country and quite naturally would like to be playing here fulltime next year. At home at either second or short, he certainly looked like someone who could play well above the Gulf Coast level.

Catcher Gabriel Gutierrez was the only other Mexican invited to the camp but as a somewhat shy, likeable kid, he quickly bonded with others, earned the inevitable nickname of "Lizzy" and became comfortable off the field as well as on.

In the final days, when greeted by an American he came to know with "Como esta?", he replied quickly, "Muy bien, gracias", then added in English," And how are you doing?".

The kid's learning. What's most important is the Dodgers are learning that in this kid, who celebrated his 20th birthday while in camp, they have a talent.

It's rather like reaching into the pocket of a suit jacket you haven't worn in awhile to discover a $20 bill you'd forgotten. Chances are next spring he'll be listed in the guide. Maybe they'll even have his stats.