Playing whether MLB sees him or not

Tampa's Carl Everett is in independent ball and still his own man.

Published May 30, 2007

LAKELAND - Carl Everett makes one thing clear. He doesn't have anything to prove.

The Tampa native and former Hillsborough High standout owns a 14-year major-league career. He's a two-time All-Star and won a World Series ring two seasons ago with the White Sox.

But Everett's outspokenness and the controversy that has accompanied that over the years have made him a risky addition to any clubhouse. Add his age (he turns 36 Sunday) and his declining numbers - last year he hit just .227 in 308 at-bats after signing one-year, $3.4-million contract with the Mariners, who designated him for assignment in late July - and it's not hard to understand why he went unsigned in the offseason.

So Everett began this season on the back fields of Tigertown, where the independent Atlantic League held spring training this month. He was wearing the uniform of the Long Island Ducks.

Major-league scouts wandered the fields, but unlike some teammates, Everett wasn't looking behind the backstop to see if they were watching.

"I've never played to prove anything to anybody," he said. "If you don't feel good about yourself, nobody else is going to care about you. I'm not worried about how they feel about me. Everybody wants to go out on their own terms, but you can't control that part. Everyone is not as fortunate to be a Roger Clemens, who can sit on his butt and not be a part of a team."

Everett is opinionated. He said dinosaurs never existed. He has made inflammatory comments about homosexuality. On this day, he ranted about the chemicals in diet soda and flavored sunflower seeds - things he won't put in his body - how the media have always had an agenda with him and how baseball has gone down the wrong path.

"You look out here and you see a lot of misfortune," Everett said. "The game, in my opinion, has not gotten better. The game has become what we're trying to avoid. It's becoming top salaries and rookies. A lot of guys here would be mid-salary guys and there isn't really a spot for them in the game because of that. The younger guys don't have to earn their stripes anymore. It's given to them, whether they admit it or not."

In its 10 years, the Atlantic League has made its name by giving former big-leaguers such as Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson a chance to prolong their careers with hope of one more shot at the majors.

"In all the farm director meetings and scouting director meetings I was ever in for 20 years, we talked about a league that would keep veteran players alive," said Atlantic League president Joe Klein, a former GM for the Tigers, Indians and Rangers. "You start off with 750 guys, 30 teams with 25 players each, but every year we use 1,100 to 1,300 at the big-league level. Those guys have to come from the farm system and farm systems can't do that anymore."

Though Everett is the biggest name in the Atlantic League this season, many players there have big-league experience. The Ducks are especially stacked, with Edgardo Alfonzo, former Brandon High star Danny Graves, John Halama, Donovan Osborne, Mark Lewis and former Devil Rays outfielder Damian Rolls.

"The little things you have to deal with in this league, you've dealt with worse in A ball," Rolls, 29, said. "You've dealt with an 18-hour bus ride with no heat, so what's a two-hour bus ride with no heat. It's just enough that you want to get out."

Everett, however, doesn't seem to hang on so tightly to the dream anymore. He enjoys his free time boating. On this day, he checked his watch, anticipating his daughter's soccer game. And he has made millions, including a $600,000 buyout from the Mariners, so livelihood isn't dependent on the league's $2,000 a month stipend.

"I'm not here to prove anything," he said. "I'm here to keep my legs underneath me. If some team wants to call me, they want to call me. If I don't get a call for this year, I'm not going to come back out here. I've played parts of 14 seasons in the big leagues, but I've got a lot left in the tank. Whether they want to believe it or not, that's up to them. But I know I can play there well.

"How can you fight, because you are being judged by humans and humans are going to make errors so you can't play the blame game."

He is starting in leftfield hoping to show he can still play the outfield, but he is hitting just .205 in 38 at-bats in a league most often compared to Triple-A level competition.

"He should be a major-leaguer," Klein said. "He just needs to show people he's healthy. I don't know what went on that he got bypassed. I see a guy helping other guys in the batting cage, sticking around later. I see a guy who's committed and if he stays healthy, he'll go back."