A little time in Little League was all Alex Gonzalez needed to remind him of what's so great about the game of baseball.

The veteran shortstop took most of the 2006 season off, and it was when he was coaching his son's Little League team that he realized he would like to give it another go.

"I was able to gain a different perspective of the importance of every single player on that team," Gonzalez told the Kansas City Star. "Even the little kid out in right field, to see him succeed, you see that and you get back to the roots of the enjoyment of the game."

After being fairly sure that when he walked away it was for good, Gonzalez has Royals manager Buddy Bell comparing him to veteran second baseman Mark Grudzielanek.

"I've seen pretty much what I thought I was going to see," said Bell. "Gonzo is a pro. He's not ever really been a flashy player. He reminds me of Grud a little bit in they just get it done without any flash.

"He's always in the right spot. You never have to move him."

Gonzalez still believes in himself, too. "I can still play," he said. "For sure. I can still play and be successful at this level. No question in my mind."

But getting to the point where he was sure he even wanted to play again didn't come until he got involved in Little League.

"What that showed me," Gonzalez said, "is that no matter how you contribute to a team, you're part of that team. When you get away from it, and you look in from the outside, it's a pretty special thing."

And now he is ready and willing to take on whatever role the Royals throw at him.

"I've got a chance to be part of something here," he said. "I know [general manager] Dayton Moore's reputation and believe he's going to turn this into a winning organization. I mean, heck, that would be an awesome thing to be a part of."

Byrd working on a splitter: Cleveland pitcher Paul Byrd has been experimenting with a split-finger fastball this spring that he is slowly using with more confidence. On Wednesday, he said he felt better using the pitch.

"The splitter was better," Byrd told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "My curveball is still more trustworthy, but I'm going to keep throwing the splitter."

Whether or not he takes the pitch into the regular season is still up in the air.

"I've got to get to the point where if I throw it five times," he said, "I know where it's going four times and the fifth time isn't a hanger over the plate. You don't want to have a pitch you can't throw in a big situation."

Despite still being unsure about the splitter, Byrd is happy with his situation.

"I'm right where I want to be in Spring Training," said Byrd. "My curveball is doing well. I was looking at video and when I had that good stretch in the middle of last season, I was throwing my curveball.

"I've got to throw all my pitches."

Stronger Snell sets expectations high: Pittsburgh pitcher Ian Snell, after tossing three hitless innings against Boston on Wednesday, has now thrown six straight hitless frames. He credits additional body weight and strength for his early success.

"I came in 15 pounds heavier and stronger than last year, and my development's way ahead of what I thought it would be," Snell told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I feel stronger than I have been in a long time."

Manager Jim Tracy has made Snell feel very at home, and expectations are high for the 2007 version of the Pirates.

"I feel more comfortable with Trace and the coaching staff and where they see me being," Snell said. "I see where this team is going and I'm on board with those guys. Any time a manager expects so much from you, you want to live up to expectations."

And those expectations include no longer being the doormat of the National League Central.

"We want to prove we're going to be a winning team, not just a team to be pushed over again anymore," he said. "It's not going to happen no more."

Podsednik returning to aggressive play: Chicago White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik is playing pain-free this spring, and the groin problems that hindered him last year seem to be a thing of the past, thus allowing him to slide in a conventional fashion.

"It's real important," Podsednik told the Chicago Tribune. "That's part of my game. Ozzie (Guillen) says he wants me to reach base, but I'm taking it a step further. I'm working on getting myself into scoring position. When a guy can steal a base, it pumps up the crowd and pumps up the offense. It's that spark. It kind of gets things going."

If things stay as they are it's possible that Podsednik could be ready to play on Opening Day, but he's not ready to commit to that quite yet.

"I think there's plenty of time for him to get ready if he doesn't have any setbacks," hitting coach Greg Walker said.

Podsednik seems to be on the same page. "Our plan of attack was to come back when I felt like I was 100 percent, whether that be Opening Day or the second week in April," Podsednik said. "It depends skill-wise how I feel offensively and defensively."

Guillen is pleased with the aggressive approach he is seeing. "He really impressed me. I never thought this kid would run that well," Guillen said. "Any time you come back from injuries, you're scared to move because you're scared you're going to get hurt again.

"To me, that's the key coming back from an injury. Just throw everything away and have confidence in yourself to do it, and I think he did."

Hirsh looks ready to Rockies: Jason Hirsh entered his first training camp with the Colorado Rockies competing for a spot as a starting pitcher. The right-hander, who was acquired from the Houston Astros in the offseason, appears to be a frontrunner now for a job in the rotation.

"There is nothing more for him to do at Triple-A," Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca told the Rocky Mountain News. "That's why, to me, he'd have to pitch himself off the team."

While Hirsh appears to have gained a spot on the pitching staff, he believes he still has plenty to prove and is not taking anything for granted.

"I'm trying to make the team and I might put a little pressure on myself," he said.

In his last outing against Oakland, Hirsh allowed one run in five innings of work. He dodged trouble in nearly every inning, especially in the first inning, when he walked the first three batters he faced. He got out of the inning by inducing a double play, which allowed one run to score, and striking out Nick Swisher.

"It wasn't all that pretty, but you can get more out of being tested and executing than you can an easy day," said Apodaca. "This was encouraging, that he would throw those pitches in that situation."

Pelfrey works to round out his repertoire: New York Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey can throw a fastball and sinker as well as any pitcher. But the 6-foot-7 right-hander knows in order to make the Mets starting rotation, he will have to improve his slider and changeup.

Pelfrey has concentrated on improving those two pitches this spring, and his effort has not gone unnoticed.

"No doubt he's different from last year. He gets better every time out," Mets manager Willie Randolph told Newsday after Pelfrey's four-inning, six-hit, one-run outing in the Mets' 2-0 loss to the Tigers. "He's starting to feel like he belongs."

Pelfrey is also a more mature kid. Admittedly wide-eyed during his stint with the Mets last season, Pelfrey now acts like a confident Major League Baseball player when on the mound.

"I'm not bright-eyed anymore," he said. "I'm more comfortable and more relaxed. You hear things, you read things, but you can't let that stuff get to you. Hopefully my performance down here is good enough."

And if he doesn't break camp with the Mets?

"If I don't make it [to the Mets] out of camp, I'll go wherever they send me and I'll be ready when they call," Pelfrey said. "New York or New Orleans -- they both start with 'New.'"

Olsen's slider a mystery: A 12-game winner in his rookie season last year, Scott Olsen succeeds in large part due to his slider, a pitch that baffles hitters and even the pitcher himself.

"A lot of times I don't know where it's going," Olsen said. "I just throw it. Sometimes it backs up. Sometimes it goes straight down. Sometimes it goes down this way. Sometimes it goes that way.

"When it leaves my hand I try to aim it and make it go places, but it doesn't always work like that. A lot of times it's to my advantage."

Olsen complements his fastball-slider repertoire with a changeup. But he told the South South Florida Sun-Sentinel that it was just a "show pitch" right now.

"When I throw it well and stay back and get on top of it, it's really good, but it's just so inconsistent right now," Olsen said.

But Olsen's slider sometimes does the work of an off-speed pitch.

"Sometimes the slider looks like the changeup because it breaks down," catcher Miguel Olivo said. "He can throw the pitch in any count, to start the count, to close it out, and when he's throwing it for strikes, it's great."

Kelly brings a lot to Pirates' ship: Pittsburgh infielder Don Kelly, who narrowly missed making the roster of the 2006 American League champion Detroit Tigers, is making a loud statement this spring that he intends to be a part of the 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates.

"He's a player you like to take a long look at," Pirates manager Jim Tracy told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I haven't seen anything thus far I don't like."

Last spring, Tigers manager Jim Leyland also liked what he saw but was unable to keep Kelly around thanks to a numbers crunch.

"A fantastic kid," Leyland said about Kelly. "They don't come any better than him. He's a left-handed hitting infielder, and I've always liked infielders who hit left-handed, so you could give a right-handed guy a day off."

Trent Jewett, who manages the Pirates' Class AAA Indianapolis affiliate in the International League, also knows exactly what Kelly can bring to a team.

"The first thing I think of is versatility and his quiet approach to the game. As a manager, he allows you to do a lot of things because he can do a lot of things.

"He's a guy you didn't necessarily worry about capping off a rally, but being right in the middle of it," Jewett said. "He's going to put a good at-bat on whoever his opponent is.

"You're very comfortable with him and the fact you know he's thoughtful and prepared. Those things are comforting as a manager. I would think wherever he is, that's probably the feeling he gives a manager."

For Kelly, he'd love the chance to play in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

"It would be a dream come true," Kelly said. "Growing up a Pirate fan, it's every little kid's dream in Pittsburgh to be able to play for the Pirates. It's our job as players to get the winning tradition back -- to go back to Pittsburgh and start winning so those young kids coming up now can experience what I was able to when I was younger."

-- Red Line Editorial