BRADENTON, Fla. - A kid from Los Angeles and another from Chicago ran into each other, literally, on a baseball field in east Tennessee a quarter-century ago.
In Rookie ball circa 1982, Minnesota prospect Kirby Puckett, the Midwesterner, came sliding into second base for a steal and met St. Louis prospect Terry Pendleton, the guy from SoCal.
"I didn't talk to anyone when I first got there, I felt so out of place," Pendleton said Tuesday, "but Kirby and I talked to each other like we'd known one another for 10 years."
It's a friendship that lasted throughout and beyond distinguished major league careers that, in many ways, mirrored each other.
On Tuesday, Pendleton, now the Braves' hitting coach, mourned the passing of Puckett, who died Monday evening at age 45 - the same age as Pendleton - after he suffered a stroke.
"Everybody talks about baseball, but I knew him more off the field," said Pendleton, who played in all sorts of charity sporting events with Puckett. "He's the type of person that shined on the field and also off the field - the way he went about things, the way he treated other people."
FLAHERTY RETIRES: Boston Red Sox catcher John Flaherty retired Tuesday, ending his 14-year career with the team he started it with.
The 38-year-old Flaherty was competing with Josh Bard and Ken Huckaby for the backup spot and to become knuckleballer Tim Wakefield's primary catcher. Jason Varitek is the starter.
Flaherty, who signed last December as a free agent after three seasons with the New York Yankees, did not give a reason for his decision.
"It is with mixed emotions that I am announcing my retirement," said Flaherty, who also played with Detroit, San Diego and Tampa Bay.
In 1,047 games, Flaherty hit .252 with 80 homers and 395 RBI.
ORIOLES: Richard Hidalgo's brief career with Baltimore ended before he played a single game for the team.
Hidalgo signed a minor league contract Feb. 26, reported two days later and spent four days in uniform before leaving the team Saturday to be with his ailing wife. He never returned, and the Orioles released the frustrated outfielder to allow him to pursue an opportunity in Japan.
"The way it was relayed to us through his agent was that he's not a guy that likes coming off the bench. He's a guy who wants to play every day," Orioles Vice President Jim Duquette said. "He didn't have the desire to keep playing if it wasn't an everyday job."
Hidalgo is a career .269 hitter with 171 home runs in nine seasons. The Venezuelan batted .314 with 44 homers and 122 RBI in his first full season in 2000 but struggled ever since.
PIRATES: Pittsburgh expects to have Kip Wells in the rotation by the All-Star break after his operation to correct a blocked artery.
Wells had surgery Monday in St. Louis, where doctors transplanted a vein from his leg to replace the damaged part of the axillary artery in the right armpit.
The axillary is the primary blood vessel from the heart to the upper extremities, and Wells' artery had been completely blocked, causing his arm and hand to feel tired at times during the past two months.
The 28-year-old right-hander was expected to be an important part of the rotation despite going 8-18 with a 5.09 ERA last season.
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