KINGSPORT — On June 20, 1970, the Houston Astros brought up a rookie named Cesar Cedeno to play his first major league baseball game.
Forty-three years later, he is still putting on the Astros uniform - only now as the hitting instructor for rookie league Greeneville. He is currently in his second season at the position.
As a 19-year old rookie, he batted .310 and led the National League in doubles. He had the power, speed and defense that together led to a 17-year career, four All-Star games and five Gold Gloves.
He played eleven seasons with the Astros before moving onto stints with the Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In his four decades of playing and coaching, he has seen the game of baseball go through some changes.
“Today is more of a power game. When I came up in the Astrodome, which was the biggest, I tried to hit the ball alley-to-alley and get on base and with my speed I was able to steal bases,” said Cedeno.
In his career, he stole 550 bases. He was the second player in MLB history to hit 20 home runs and steal 50 bases in a season. Lou Brock was the first in 1967.
He accomplished this feat for three years in a row (1972-74). Between 1972-1977, he had individual seasons of 50 or more stolen bases.
“Today is about the home run. Stolen bases, sacrifices not so much, when I played you had 15, 20 or more players who could steal 40, 50, or 60 bases. Not that many in today’s game,” Cedeno added.
Another change is the size of the ballparks. They seem to get smaller. When he broke in the Houston Astrodome measured 340 feet to left field and 330 to right field. Today the Astros play in Minute Maid Park where left field measures 315, and right field stands at 326.
“Sometimes I look at the size on these parks and just wonder what numbers I could have put up,” Cedeno grinned.
He totaled 199 home runs in his career.
Cedeno spent four seasons with the Cincinnati Reds (1982-85). In 1985, there were four Reds players with over 2000 hits; Cedeno, Pete Rose, Dave Concepcion and Buddy Bell.
And what was it like playing with Rose, the all-time hits leader?
“I never saw anybody work any harder at hitting. He would spend an hour by himself taking batting practice,” said Cedeno. “Not everyone is gifted in hitting, but he worked hard at it and took more swings in practice than anybody. He was very special.”
Now Cedeno spends his days trying to develop the hitting of the newest crop of rookies.
Developing a swing or working on a batting stance are not the only adjustments for the 18- to 21-year-olds.
“Probably one of the bigger adjustments is being on their own, away from mama. They have to figure things out on their own. But on the field we just want to give the instruction and feedback individually that will help them move up through the leagues quicker,” Cedeno added.