Saarloos a quiet role model 

Kirk Saarloos’ departure from the Bay Area sports scene was much like his existence here: Few noticed and fewer really cared.

In fact, a lot of you are probably asking, "Who the heck is Kirk Saarloos? Did he turn down the Raiders’ job, too?"

Saarloos, for those of you who don’t know, is the 27-year-old pitcher traded by the A’s on Tuesday to the Cincinnati Reds. And if you didn’t know who he is before now, that’s a shame — especially if you have a youngster who looks up to big-league ballplayers. Because Saarloos is exactly the kind of player you want as that youngster’s role model.

Granted, kids typically gravitate to players who put up big numbers and appear nightly on highlight shows, and Saarloos — rhymes with Carlos — does neither. So anonymous is he that even if you wanted to pick up a No. 31 jersey at McAfee Coliseum last year, you’d have been out of luck.

But the fact that he’s so anonymous is a sad commentary. This is a young man who embodies everything right and good about sports, yet he’s continually overshadowed by the criminals, cheats and look-at-me athletes who pollute our daily sports sections.

Saarloos was an accomplished collegian, a first-team All-American. But he’s barely 6 feet tall, well under 200 pounds, right-handed and rarely tops 90 on the radar gun, so after being drafted by the Houston Astros, he essentially dropped off the baseball map.

Even when Saarloos made big-league history in 2003, it was in a manner that only the most devoted seamhead would remember. He was one of six Astros pitchers who combined on a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium, chipping in with 1¹/³ innings of work.

If you knew that, you’re probably Howie Schwab from ESPN’s regrettable "Stump the Schwab."

And you probably know that the Astros traded Saarloos to the A’s in 2004. But you might not know why Saarloos deserves universal respect.

We want our role-model athletes to overcome adversity, right? With his mother battling breast cancer during spring training 2005, Saarloos took his heavy heart to the mound — hiding a cancer-awareness bracelet in his back pocket — and won a spot in Oakland’s starting rotation.

We want our role-model athletes to carry themselves with class, too, right? Saarloos bounced between the bullpen and rotation so often in 2006 that he had never had the luxury of routine. Not only did he not complain, he picked up a save and a win (as a starter) in one memorable six-day span.

And we want our role-model athletes to be humble. Asked if he was going to contribute to Barry Zito’s Strikeouts for Troops program by donating $100 for every strikeout he records, the soft-tossing Saarloos said, "I think it’d be better for the soldiers if I gave them $100 for every batter I hit."

So what if he doesn’t light up "SportsCenter"? He does his job well, stays out of trouble and keeps everything in perspective. So find out what number Saarloos is wearing with the Reds, order a custom jersey and give it to your kid.

While you’re at it, burn that No. 18 Raiders jersey of his.

Mychael Urban is the author of "Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito" and a writer for MLB.com.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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