Brito's Back In Full Again

VERO BEACH, Fla- The ICBM- sized cigar is not in evidence but there's no mistaking that Panama hat. It's Mike Brito, back from the darkness of the moon, a man in full once again.

The eclipse from which Brito emerged began when Rene Francisco was named the head of international scouting for the Dodgers. One of Rene's tenets was that he personally approve the signing of every player each scout under his command recommended. It was a dictum that chafed Mike, who felt that the man who had signed Fernando Valenzuela, Ismael Valdes and Antonio Osuna as well as more than 25 others who had made the big leagues, shouldn't have to submit to.

To make it even more galling, it seemed that every time he was forced to ask Francisco to come to Mike's operating turf of Mexico to check somebody out, Rene had duties somewhere else. So, for more than two years, Brito didn't sign a player. This from a guy who had been regularly turning up eight or nine likelies a year. It got so bad that he was considering offers from other clubs despite the fact that he'd been employed by the Dodgers for over a quarter-century.

Finally, in 2005 a compromise was worked out. Mike could submit his names to others, by-passing Francisco. And when he hauled Oscar Robles into camp last spring, he was back in style once more. Then, at the end of the season, Francisco moved on, resigning his post and Mike moved into high gear.

Thus it was this spring that, while only two new faces showed up from the Dominican Republic, previously the horn of plenty for Latino prospects, there were five fresh faces from Mexico. And Mike in camp for a few days to see to their welfare.

And shout hosannas for each as in:

v Shortstop Francisco Lizarraga, who first had shone to advantage in the fall instructional camp. "Reminds me of Juan Castro when I first signed him," Mike enthuses.

v Righthander Francisco Feliz. "We agreed to lend him to Saltillo in the Mexican League because they're short on pitchers and really like him. But only for 10 days. We want him to play here this year." Feliz returned and has been assigned to Columbus where he's currently the closer.

v Righthander Jesus Rodriguez. "Reminds me of Bob Gibson." To which a staff member retorted, "Mike, he's not Bob Gibson. "Mike replied, "I didn't say he was another Gibson, just that he reminds me of him."

v Lefthander Thomas Melgarejo. Mike first brought him here a year ago on a trial basis but the Dodgers declined the pay the money that Mexico City, which owned his contract, was asking for him. Now, "It took me a year but I got him," Mike crowed.

v Righthander David "Spike" Lundberg. Wait a minute! Somebody named Spike Lundberg from Mexico? Actually, Spike's from Arizona and was pitching in winter ball south of the border as a free agent when Mike spotted him. "Best pitcher down there," he insists.

You might gather that Brito tends to deal in hyperbole when he discusses his signees but you should also note he has a habit of coming up with some enough goodies that you shouldn't dismiss the claims as legends belonging with the seven cities of gold, either. For Rodriguez has intrigued the staff enough that he's in the Columbus starting rotation. while Lundberg WAS the best pitcher down there, record-wise at least, for he led the league in wins and ERA as well as finishing third in strikeouts. He also has done well this side of the border, too, twice winning 14 games as a starter and racking up 31 saves in the Texas League two years ago as a closer. He made the Jacksonville staff.

Just in case they're needed, Mike has a number of players currently down in the Mexican League as well- Gabriel Alvarez, Jorge Castillo, Juan Flores, Erik Galindo, Edgar Lizarraga, Heriberto Rodriguez and Mauricio Tequida. They're all pitchers and if Brito seems to specialize in those, it's because that's what Mexico seems to feature.

He's done so well down there that he's a member of that country's baseball Hall of Fame. Plesae note that he's not Mexican either, but rather a Cuban transplanted to this country back when Fidel first took his homeland over. Over the many years, he's learned about just about every kid down there who ever threw or hit a ball. What's more, he's gathered in more than his share for the Dodgers.

Now that he's unleashed, he plans to keep right on doing it.