- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2008

Ronnie Belliard, 32, is a 10-year major league veteran who signed a minor league contract with Washington last spring but wound up being one of the more valuable members of the Nationals. Belliard filled in at second base when shortstop Cristian Guzman was injured and Felipe Lopez had to move to short.

Belliard batted .290 with 11 home runs and 58 RBI in 147 games, with an on-base percentage of .332. He was rewarded by the Nationals with a two-year, $3.5 million contract extension during last season. An eighth-round draft choice by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1994, he is the distant cousin of former Atlanta Braves shortstop Rafael Belliard.

Thom Loverro caught up with Belliard recently.

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Q: What do you do in the offseason?

A: I played winter ball. I do that every winter, no matter what. It is something to keep myself in shape. I don’t get real, real fat that way.

Q: When you were growing up, did you have a major league player that you looked up to?

A: Ozzie Smith was my favorite player. I used to play shortstop, and he was a little guy. I met him, and that was cool. I told him he was my favorite player.

Q: Do you think the moves made this offseason will make this team better than last year?

A: I think we improved. When you make moves like we did, getting a couple of guys here and there who can hit, I think we are going to have a good team.

Q: How much respect do you think this team earned last year around baseball?

A: People came and said they thought we were supposed to lose 100 games, but Manny Acta said all year long [to] keep playing hard for nine innings. Go out there and do your best. That is what we did, went out there and played nine hard innings, and look what happened — we won more games than anybody expected.

Q: Are you looking forward to seeing the new ballpark?

A: I am looking forward to winning some games. I know we are going to have a new stadium, which is good for the fans, good for the organization and good for the players. But I am looking forward to winning some games.

Q: You have three guys yourself, Felipe Lopez and Cristian Guzman at two positions, second base and shortstop. Somebody is not going to start. Manny Acta has said you are the starting second baseman going into spring training. Does it cause any tension among all of you?

A: We get along OK. When I got here last year, Felipe was the second baseman, Cristian was the shortstop and I was the utility guy. I knew my role. I said to them from the beginning, I was here to help you guys, and that is what I will say again this year. Whatever decision they make will be fine with me.

Q: Do you have any hobbies or passions away from baseball?

A: My hobby is to be with my family and my kids. That is my passion after the season is over.

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