JUPITER — The last time Juan Pierre and Chone Figgins were on the same team, they weren’t exactly living high on the hog. It was 1998, and they were making beans as minor-leaguers in the Colorado Rockies farm system.
They slept on air mattresses in a studio they shared with four of their teammates and ate so many hot dogs that only recently was Pierre willing to digest one again.
“We’d buy a week’s worth of hot dogs, buns and gallons of 99-cent juice,” Pierre said. “And those air mattresses, I remember putting them on our shoulders and walking down the street to the gas station to get them filled.”
Times changed for Pierre and Figgins. They each went their separate ways in trades. Both made millions and each won a World Series ring, Pierre with the 2003 Marlins and Figgins with the 2002 Angels.
But one thing always remained constant: their friendship. And long-time friendships aren’t all that easy to find in baseball.
“It’s hard to get that close to guys in baseball just because the turnover rate is so high,” Marlins pitcher Wade LeBlanc said.
Pierre and Figgins, though, have managed to buck the trend.
“We just clicked,” Pierre said, recalling that their friendship began with a few simple words: “Wanna go hit?”
After 15 years apart, the two buddies have been reunited by the Marlins, who brought back Pierre on a one-year deal and signed Figgins to a minor-league contract after he was released by the Mariners with $8 million still owed to him this coming season.
The two players share much in common.
Each is 35. Both were born and raised in the South, Pierre in Louisiana and Figgins in Georgia. Both are speed merchants and won stolen base titles. Both went from the top of the sport to the bottom, landing on the bench after years of providing major contributions to their respective teams. And both are fiends in terms of working overtime to improve.
Pierre and Figgins are among the first players to arrive to spring training each morning and among the last to leave.
“Nobody likes to give in,” Figgins said. “I don’t want to be the last one to say, ‘OK, I’m done hitting.’ He doesn’t want to be the last one to say, ‘I’m good.’ I can always do some more. So can he.”
They’re so close that when Pierre was with the Chicago White Sox and they were visiting Seattle, he would stay with Figgins during the series. When Pierre was with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Figgins would stay with him.
But after shaking hands on the field before the game, Pierre said that it “became war.”
“I love him to death,” Pierre said. “But when he was at third and I was at the plate, I’d be, ‘OK, I’m gonna bunt [successfully] on you.’ ”
And Pierre would try to drop one down to show who was better.
Now they’re hoping to be working together as teammates.
The Marlins signed Pierre to be their everyday left fielder. But Figgins is among a large group of players fighting to earn a roster spot. He’s coming off two consecutive disappointing seasons with the Mariners in which he hit .188 and .181, respectively.
Pierre will offer his friend all the help he can give him, something that Figgins appreciates.
“Especially in the situation I’m in, fighting for a job, and having somebody on your side like that, that’s known me since Day 1 … that’s big,” Figgins said. “It’s something you don’t get in baseball, a relationship like this.”