He was the kid so poor he was forced to use cardboard for a baseball glove. Miguel Tejada excelled because he needed to excel. The other option was a life of struggle.
So if along the way, Tejada may have played loose with the truth as well as playing some brilliant baseball, well, that could be understood, if not approved.
He gave the wrong date for his birthday, wanting teams to believe he was younger. He gave Congress the incorrect answers in testimony in Rafael Palmiero’s steroid loose.
But for certain, Tejada, who will be 37 in two months — he was born May 25, 1974 — also has given his best. And like the lady singing about her career in the Sondheim musical, “Follies,” he’s still here.
Meaning still in baseball. Now, he’s here, meaning the Giants, where he appeared to be the perfect — if aging — solution to the departure of Juan Uribe and Edgar Rentaria at shortstop.
“I’m the new guy,” said Tejada, who’s actually the old guy. “It’s pretty cool. I’m honored and thank the Giants for choosing me to be the guy to help them repeat. I’m a winner.”
He’s also the one known in his homeland, the Dominican Republic, country of shortstops, as the “patriot player,” because he has played almost every offseason in the Dominican Winter Baseball League.
His other nickname is “La Gua Gua,” the affectionate term for public shuttle buses in some Caribbean counties because of the way he drives in runs, sort of baseball version of Jerome Bettis, “The Bus,” if you will.
Tejada’s now-lengthy career began across the Bay, in Oakland, where in 2002, and isn’t that so long ago, he was the American League Most Valuable Player. In retrospect, the A’s never should have let him go, but they had Bobby Crosby, and so Tejada went to the Baltimore Orioles to lead the American League in RBIs and in 2005 become the MVP of the All-Star Game.
“I’m a little older,” Tejada said about his skills. “I play the game the same. I love the game. I take the field like I always do, hard and ready to go.”
In a bit of a twist to “The Old Man and the Sea,” Tejada has become a fisherman, although he does it from his backyard in the Dominican, not from a boat in the Caribbean.
“I never did it as a kid because I didn’t live close to a beach,” Tejada said, “and I just didn’t want to sit there. But I bought a hook and reel, and I can do it from my yard in a canal. It’s a way to relax.”
Tejada worked with Erick Aybar of the Los Angeles Angels in the Dominican, and according to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, is going to join with new Giants teammate Pablo Sandoval to help keep Sandoval in shape. Tejada said he enjoys his role as mentor as much as his role as ballplayer.
“I will do anything you want,” he said.
What about going deep into the hole at short, as he did once, and beating the runner.
“They say I cannot do this or that as I used to do,” Tejada remarked, “and therefore I have to work to show I should be playing.”
Giants general manager said he has admired Tejada for a long while, and was willing to give him a one-year, $6.5 million free agent contract when Uribe jumped to the hated Dodgers.
Tejada played 59 games with the San Diego Padres the last two months of the season, after they acquired him in trade from Baltimore. After finishing one game behind the champion Giants in the National League West, San Diego declined to offer Tejada arbitration.
“I played a lot against the Giants,” Tejada said. “I could see how they were. They had pitching. They had momentum last year.”
Tejada played all 162 games for six consecutive seasons, 2001 through 2006, then 158 games in 2008 and 2009. Last season, he still was in 156 games. That’s consistency and durability.
“It will be fun to see,” Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt told the Associated Press. “Miguel brings energy to the clubhouse. When you’re playing against him, you know he cares about his job.”
The San Francisco Examiner will profile a series of Giants players leading up to the season opener against the Dodgers on March 31.
Pitcher Tim Lincecum
Outfielder Cody Ross
First baseman Aubrey Huff
Shortstop Miguel Tejada
Pitcher Barry Zito
Catcher Buster Posey