WHETHER A COINCIDENCE OR NOT, BELLIARD A WINNER.
Let's get a couple of things straight about Rafael Belliard.
He bathes with soap and water, not champagne. He doesn't have a title ring for every finger. His wardrobe isn't limited to the championship T-shirts and hats he's acquired since 1990.
That said, few people outside of Dick Clark have been part of more celebrations than this light-hitting, slick-fielding shortstop who always seems to wind up on a championship team.
``Wherever Raffy goes,'' teammate Tom Glavine said, ``champagne flows.''
By now, Belliard's eyes are probably immune to champagne's sting. Go ahead, pour as much as you want over his head. He can take it.
Belliard's championship run started in 1990, when he was a utility infielder for a Pittsburgh Pirates team that won the NL East. He signed with the Atlanta Braves the following year and they went from worst-to-first in the NL West.
Was it just coincidence? Does Raffy have mystical powers? Those are questions that could be answered in ``The Belliard Zone.''
``A lot of people say I'm a good-luck charm,'' he said. ``I came to this team after they were last. In 1991, I come here and we finish first and go to the World Series.''
The Braves haven't stopped winning since picking their Dominican four-leaf clover. They are the first team to capture six straight division titles, which raises Belliard's postseason tally to seven-for-seven in the '90s.
It took something as monumental as the strike of 1994 to interrupt his decade of celebration. That's the only year he wasn't part of a championship team, but, then again, no one else was, either.
``He was in the postseason with Pittsburgh and he's been in it ever since he's been here,'' Glavine said. ``He's the closest thing to a good-luck charm you're going to find, that's for sure.''
What makes Belliard's feat even more remarkable is the fact that the 5-foot-6, 160-pounder is hardly a prime-time player.
He's a puny hitter, with a career average of .221 and only two homers in 2,281 at-bats. He's not particularly fast, with just 43 stolen bases in 1,148 games. He hasn't been a full-time starter since 1992.
``I understand my job,'' said Belliard, who remains with the Braves at a reserve middle infielder because of stellar defensive skills. ``I've got to stay ready all the time, any time, any minute.''
Belliard, who turns 36 this month, played only 72 games this season, hitting .211 in 71 at-bats while backing up All-Star shortstop Jeff Blauser.
``Blauser had a good year,'' Belliard said. ``You don't want to take Blauser out and put me in there. But I know every time I go in there, I do my job. I'm very pleased with the way I played. I see myself as security for the team. If anything happens, I can go in there and do the job and we won't have a problem.''
He's the kind of guy that every team loves to have around. He's usually smiling. He never complains. Sometimes, he'll even flex his muscles for amused teammates.
So Belliard hangs on - and his team keeps winning championships. Right now, Belliard and the Braves are playing the Florida Marlins in the NL championship series.
``You've got to be lucky,'' he said. ``It's not easy to play in seven straight playoffs. You've got to be in the right spot at the right time. I'm very lucky. How many guys never got to play in one World Series? I've already played in four and I'm looking for No. 5 this year.
``I'm a very lucky man,'' he kept repeating.
Lucky, indeed. Belliard's list of postseason accomplishments reads like this:
- Seven division titles.
- Three division series victories.
- Four NL championship series victories.
- One World Series victory.
A collector of baseball memorabilia, Belliard has set aside a room in his home in Boca Raton, Fla., where some day he'll display all of his championship paraphernalia, including hats, T-shirts and four title rings.
Belliard's favorite season was 1991, when he played in a career-high 149 games and helped the Braves beat his old team, the Pirates, in the NL championship series. And let's not forget 1995, when he captured his only World Series title - as well as the only ring he wears on a regular basis.
This season, however, ranks right up there. After the Braves clinched the East Division title, Belliard found himself in the starting lineup over the final week. He used the opportunity to pick up his 500th career hit and - stop the presses! - his second homer, ending a power drought of 10 years and 1,869 at-bats.
He has a framed, front-page newspaper clipping hanging in his locker that proclaims, ``Only 753 Behind Aaron.''
``This has been an unbelievable season, an unbelievable finish for me,'' Belliard said. ``I've been looking for my second home run for 10 years. Finally, I hit it in New York. It was like my dream come true.''
Belliard would like to finish his career with the Braves. At this point, he's playing from one-year contract to one-year contract, always hoping they'll keep bringing him back for another season.
That's a decision that shouldn't be taken lightly. Remember, it's fine to have the best pitching in baseball - but it doesn't hurt to have a good-luck charm, too.
PHOTO When the baseball postseason rolls around, Atlanta shortstop Rafael Belliard is usually on the scene.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Oct 12, 1997|
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