NEW YORK -- Four years ago, Willy Taveras had already long wrapped up the Major League stolen-base title.
A speedy outfielder cut from the mold of Dave Roberts and Juan Pierre, Taveras swiped 68 bags for the Rockies, including five in one June game. Speed like that is rare; from 2000 on, only six others have pilfered five bases in a game.
Taveras was 26 years old. Three years earlier, he had finished as the runner-up for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
On Tuesday, Taveras was headed for Tucson, Ariz., to get ready to play winter ball for Yaquis de Obregon in Mexico.
Taveras hasn't played in the Majors since 2010, and he was out of pro ball entirely in 2012. The outfielder turns 31 on Christmas Day, and he wants another go.
"I just need a chance to get back in baseball. That's what I love, I love to play baseball," said Taveras, who owns the longest hit streak in Astros history, at 30 games. "It hurt to watch the games on TV. I definitely want a chance to get back to baseball and go from there."
Injuries and a low on-base percentage took their toll on Taveras. He last played in the Majors with the Nationals in 2010, a year after he played 102 games with the Reds. Taveras' OBP was below .300 both seasons, but his lifetime OBP is still at .320.
"I know my defense is very good too, [because of] my speed," Taveras said. "I'm 30 years old. And I still can help a ballclub out there, I know that."
Taveras was hurt, too, when the agency that used to represent him fell apart. In some ways, he fell through the cracks. It's fully possible that if Taveras had representation in 2012, he could have at least ended up in independent ball. But he had no one to guide him.
Taveras hit .302 with a .336 on-base percentage in 97 games for Colorado's Triple-A team in 2011, but he didn't get a callup. He figured heading into the offseason there would be a chance to come to Spring Training 2012 and win a job somewhere, with somebody.
"But it happened that my agency fell apart, the group that I was with, they fell apart and I ended up without an agent," Taveras said. "So it was kind of rough and tough for me in the offseason, because I wasn't getting any phone calls to be able to get a job. But Danny Lozano tried to help me very late -- around February -- with the help of Albert Pujols. I asked for a favor. And Danny, he did try to help me -- I know he tells me that it was late -- and he was willing to be helpful, and I was very thankful and blessed he tried to help me.
"But nothing happened. Still, the whole summer, I was training, training, training to try to get back."
Taveras still lives in Houston, where he played his first three seasons in the big leagues, from 2004-06. Even though he was not with the team, the Astros gave Taveras permission to work with their trainer, Gene Coleman, whom Taveras had established a strong relationship with. After signing a waiver, there he was, working out at Minute Maid Park, but with no uniform, no spot in the clubhouse.
Taveras is healthy and strong now, he said. He will have scouts watching in Mexico. He has a new agent, Burton Rocks.
Taveras will likely have to miss the World Baseball Classic this time around, but he's OK with that. He played for the Dominican Republic in both of the first two go-arounds, but he also wasn't in Spring Training to win a job in 2006 and '09. This year, Taveras knows he might need until the last day of camp.
"First of all, I believe in God," Taveras said of his ability to stay positive. "It's hard to wait, cause that's what I was doing -- just waiting and waiting, and I'm still waiting, and it's hard to. But at the end of the day, I have a beautiful family, even if baseball doesn't work, to be able to keep working hard, you keep yourself in good shape. ... We're just keeping positive."