I need to let you in on a little secret: I never was a good athlete.
Just because I wasn’t a good athlete didn’t mean I wasn’t a wannabe. I loved playing baseball as a kid. I loved playing running bases either in our backyard or with the neighbors up the street. I loved playing fast-pitch behind Rogers School … or Boone School … or Clinton School. I couldn’t get enough of the game during the summer.
But I just wasn’t a good athlete. My parents may argue with me over that, but my wife and kids will nod their collective heads in agreement.
I made it through 99.999 percent of my Cubs career being an observer and not a participant. For me, sweating at work meant I was frantically running around because the club was about to make an announcement – or it was hot outside.
But that other 0.001 percent is the day I played the faux athlete role. It was a day that lives in infamy. Hopefully, you weren’t there to witness it.
It’s the day Bob Patterson made me play catch with him.
Patterson was a southpaw relief specialist for the Cubs from 1996-1998. The left-handedness gave us a natural bond. He was a “late in life” guy by baseball standards; he had his best big league success – and saw his most extensive action – at ages 37 and 38. He was a fun guy to talk to, and he always had something interesting to say.
This one Sunday morning in Chicago, Patterson and yours truly were sitting in the Wrigley Field dugout just shooting the breeze. There was no batting practice that day, and players were strolling into the ballpark at no great rate of speed.
Patterson was getting antsy; he had been on a roll of late, and he wanted to stay in routine and play catch. He politely excused himself to go into the clubhouse to grab a teammate to throw with him.
About 90 seconds later, he returned to the dugout – alone. And he had two gloves with him.
At first, I didn’t think anything of it. Patterson was known as “The Glove Doctor” – and was a regular fixture on TV, sitting in the bullpen and working to repair someone’s glove.
This time, though, he tossed the second glove to me.
“Lefty, correct,” he said “Let’s go.” And he was serious.
He was getting loose, and I was going to play the part of guinea pig.
I followed him down the third base line to the Cubs’ bullpen, and for the first few minutes, it was actually a routine game of toss. Picture this: Patterson, the crafty veteran, in his white uniform with blue pinstripes. Wasserstrom, now sweating profusely, in a collared shirt and khakis.
I did my best to not notice that the gates had now opened and fans were strolling into the park. Just catch the ball. Just get the ball back to him. Don’t do anything stupid.
I thought I was going to get through it unscathed. But as I’m well aware … don’t think; you can only hurt the ball club.
Just when I thought I could relax, Patterson threw his “out” pitch in my direction – which was some hybrid combination of screwball and changeup. It was like a mad butterfly was coming my way.
No, I didn’t duck. Worse … I whiffed.
The ball totally missed my glove. I’m not sure I was within a foot of catching it. I don’t think I could have smothered it. The ball rolled all the way to the leftfield wall, and fans by the bullpen snickered.
After retrieving the ball and somehow getting it back to him without tearing any cartilage, Patterson said he wouldn’t throw that pitch again. But he did. And it wasn’t pretty.
I reached and whiffed again. I didn’t even jog to retrieve the ball; I was even getting some boos.
I vowed I wouldn’t let another one by me. I dared him to throw another screwball/changeup/whatever. The third time was the charm, as the ball completely missed my glove again while striking me in the right knee.
I took that as a moral victory and quit right there before I damaged my morale any more.
And my playing career officially ended before it started. You have to know your limitations.
It’s hard to believe that it has been 32 years since Ryne Sandberg literally burst onto the national map.
In the world I used to live in, “The Sandberg Game” – June 23, 1984 – was a glorified bullet point that appeared in a boatload of Cubs media guides during my time with the club:
Now I know what you’re thinking: How did I not receive a Pulitzer Prize for that bit of bulleted prose?
The more important question: What kind of view did I have on this historical day?
Nope, not a press box moment. I was still in my formative years.
I remember sitting on my parents’ den sofa on June 23, 1984 … home from school after a less-than-stellar freshman campaign academically … NBC broadcasting the Saturday afternoon game, with Bob Costas and Tony Kubek calling the action … sticking with the game despite a Cardinals six-run 2nd inning – since Ralph Citarella was St. Louis’ starting pitcher (yes, THE Ralph Citarella; I figured a comeback was possible).
Back in my pre-work days, I spent as many afternoons in the Wrigley Field seats as I could.
I was smart enough to go to the June 22 game. One of my all-time favorite Cubs pitchers, Rick Reuschel, was on the mound that day – and he pitched into the 8th inning in a 9-3 victory.
I was smart enough to go to the June 24 game. The recently acquired Rick Sutcliffe was making his first Wrigley Field start as a member of the Cubs – and was brilliant in a complete-game 5-0 win, striking out 14 while allowing five meaningless singles.
But June 23, though, I was lucky enough to be a couch potato. Sure, I would have loved to have been there – hundreds of thousands will lie and tell you they were there for the histrionics – but it means I have a better Ryne Sandberg story to tell.
And I can’t make this up. Mr. Sandberg once used my name as an alias.
In 1994, for family reasons, Ryno shocked the baseball world with a June retirement.
Less than 18 months later, he re-shocked the world by un-retiring. I do apologize if “re-shocked” and “un-retiring” aren’t part of your normal dictionary.
It sounded like a Halloween prank, but it wasn’t. On October 31, 1995, the Cubs announced a major press conference was going to be held in a downtown Michigan Avenue hotel. In a pre-internet existence, talk radio was starting to rule the world – and word quickly spread that Sandberg had filed papers for reinstatement.
In the process of waiting for the reinstatement to become official, it was decided by Sandberg’s agent and handlers that the second baseman needed an alias in order to sneak into Chicago. And the name selected was … you guessed it … Chuck Wasserstrom.
Why me? The short answer is, why not?
Yes, they gave me a heads-up that they were using my name as Ryne’s alias.
And yes, I was smart enough to stop at the front desk … say I left my key in the room … show my photo ID to get another key … and politely barge into the room. Heck, the room was in my name; I wanted to see what I was missing. I must say … the view was great.
Looking back, I would love to have spent one game day as Ryne Sandberg – Hall of Fame player, 10-time All-Star, 1984 MVP, nine-time Gold Glove Award winner, and the list goes on.
But it’s cool to know that – even for just one day – Ryne Sandberg got to be me. I hope I ordered nicely from room service.
That headline caught your attention, didn’t it?!
What could I possibly be blaming my dad for on Father’s Day?
The joking answer is … my baseball career (or lack thereof). My dad wasn’t the world’s greatest athlete (sorry, dad) – and I got those genes from him. Thankfully, the only athletic gene I passed on to my children was the last name on their uniforms. My dad was an engineer and can build … and visualize … and follow directions. I hope those genes skipped a generation and get passed on.
In all seriousness, I credit my love for baseball – and now, to softball – to my dad. And it starts as one of those wonderful “What If” questions … What if we hadn’t gone to my first baseball game on that specific day?
I turn back the time machine to September 1972. I was closing in on birthday No. 7 – and I was really getting into baseball thanks to WGN. On September 2, I watched Milt Pappas’ near perfect game, and I was beyond “all in.” There was something about the game of baseball that was mesmerizing to me.
I’m sure I was a little bear to live with, but I wanted to go to a baseball game. I wanted to partake in the whole experience. I wanted to see if there was more to it than watching the game on TV.
The promise was made by my dad; if I behaved myself, I would go to a baseball game the next time the Cubs were in town.
I might have just been six years old, but few childhood memories stick out like September 16, 1972. Two weeks after Pappas’ no-hitter, I was on my way to Wrigley Field for the first time – thanks to my dad and my next-door neighbors, the Tecktiels, who were probably just as tired about hearing me talk about baseball as my parents were.
It’s hard to believe how fortunate I was to go to the game that Saturday afternoon. Beautiful weather. Nice crowd. Lots of offense by the home team.
The recollection of walking up the stairs and seeing the entire Wrigley Field outfield sprawling out in front of me with every added step … that memory is etched right in the center of my brain. I relived it hundreds – maybe thousands – of times during my Cubs days; I’d purposely go down the first-base line and walk up the stairs from the lower bowl. It’s a feeling that’s just not the same in other ballparks.
You didn’t need to buy tickets in advance in those days, and it was a decent-sized crowd that afternoon. I did have to look up the attendance, and it was over 20,000 – which was a big crowd in those days. We sat in grandstand seats behind the first base bag, and I remember sitting with my dad and my neighbors – just fascinated by everything in front of me. The live version was so much better than what I had seen on TV. The grass was greener. The Cubs’ uniforms were whiter. The crowd noise was real.
For those of you who know me, I waited until 1973 before attempting to keep score at a game. On this day, I just soaked in the atmosphere.
If I allow myself to think about it, my whole Cubs career could have been shaped by that game. What if the game had been boring? What if we had gone the day before, when only 3,400 had been in attendance? What if the Cubs had been slaughtered?
But why dwell on that? My dad was smart enough to take me to a game with a final score of Cubs 18, Mets 5. Good job, dad!
I might have been a kid, but I do remember Burt Hooton hitting a grand slam off Tom Seaver that day – and hearing how rare it was for a pitcher to hit a grand slam. I remember seeing players like Ron Santo and Billy Williams and Don Kessinger and Rick Monday – the Cubs I regularly watched on WGN. I remember feeling the excitement in the air and knowing that this was where I wanted to be.
I only wish my brain could have retained more of the specifics. It’s cool to be able to look at the old box score and see that those in attendance at Wrigley Field that day included Mets manager Yogi Berra … and Willie Mays started at first base for the Mets … and great names like Tommie Agee and John Milner and Jim Fregosi and Bud Harrelson and Jose Cardenal and Glenn Beckert and Jim Hickman and Elrod Hendricks appeared in the contest … and the umpiring crew included legends named Nick Colosi and Chris Pelekoudas … and the crowd included Henry and Chuck Wasserstrom.
Thankfully, I kept my ticket stub. It cost a whole dollar for me to get in.
Thankfully, I took some pictures – which drilled in the feeling of being slightly up the first-base line and taking the stairs up from the concourse.
Thankfully, I’ve been able to thank my dad through the years with Cubs-inspired paraphernalia.
And, most importantly, I can give him credit for the beginning of my Cubs career. Someone had to get me started on that track.
So I guess if you want to blame anyone for how I turned out, you can blame my dad. And that’s how the headline got its name.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Thanks for the continued support.
And for all of you dads out there, I hope your kids blame you for all of their achievements, too. Happy Father’s Day!
Thirty years ago today – on June 12, 1986 – I made my Cubs debut as a media relations intern.
About four months ago, I chronicled that day in my first post after announcing to the world that I had started this little storytelling site. And that story – which was later picked up by The Cauldron/Sports Illustrated – essentially launched my freelance writing career.
You should never forget where you came from. So with that in mind, I’d like to share with you where it all started – both the 25-year baseball career and the (hopefully lengthy) writing career.
Here is the link for the extended version that can be found on thecauldron.si.com website: https://thecauldron.si.com/eyes-wide-open-faf78f2ca3ce#.fz24bvya3
My First Day With The Cubs
Thirty years ago, a media relations intern had a crazy initiation to baseball life and working for the team he loved.
As I begin my career as a writer for the second time, I know that career stories have to be less about me and more about what I saw and the perspective I can bring to the events that took place over my 25-year run with the Chicago Cubs. I was employed in a behind-the-scenes/under-the-radar role with the organization, and I had a distinct view of these events. Working for the Cubs was the ultimate reality show, and virtually every game was televised.
Every once in a while, though, I have to insert myself into the story. Hopefully, you’ll understand why, as some of these stories are about me. And this is one of them.
I parked my car in the lot down the leftfield line, and slowly walked toward the lone solitary door near the corner of Clark and Addison, mostly tucked from public view. It was a surreal feeling as I headed toward the Administrative Entrance door that Thursday morning back in 1986 — June 12, to be exact.
I had entered Wrigley Field literally hundreds of times before, but through a turnstile as a ticket-bearing patron. This was different. This time, I was entering the ballpark as the new Chicago Cubs media relations intern.
I’m often asked, what would be your dream job? How about landing an internship with the Cubs, the team that I had breathlessly followed since I was six years old? I was “that kid,” the one that camp counselors made fun of because I could correctly spell Billy Grabarkewitz’s name. I may not remember what I ate for lunch yesterday — or if I ate lunch yesterday — but that first day as an intern is etched into my skull.
Work life was a tick easier back in 1986. Not that getting an internship was easy, but there weren’t a whole lot of hoops to jump through. Human Resources was just a concept; the closest the Cubs had to an HR representative was the legendary Salty Saltwell — the one-time GM who became the ultimate jack-of-all-tradesman. Personnel decisions were handled by each department, meaning I only had one interview to survive. That was nice, considering the pay was a solid $250 per month for six months of indentured servitude. At least I received college credit for missing a semester of class time.
I had come across a newspaper blurb that the Cubs had split their public relations department into two — with Bob Ibach moving to publications to launch VineLine, and Ned Colletti taking over the newly created title of media relations director. So I did what you did back then — I sent a Smith Corona-typed letter directly to Ned to inquire about summer internship possibilities.
I had quite the resume going at that point in my life, as I could list the Columbia Missourian, the Missouri Sports Information Office and Pro Football Weekly in my career portfolio (I decided that Merry-Go-Round Shoes didn’t have to make the final resume cut). My letter must have been OK, as I got called in to meet with Ned and one of his assistants, Doris Acosta, who was running the search.
I floated up those stairs to meet Ned and Doris that day. Obviously, I nailed the interview, or else I would be writing about some other adventure right now. They said I would hear something within in a week, which I did. I got the call, and I knew my life would be changing in a couple months.
My next time at the ballpark was that day in June. So here I was, reporting for duty a little before 9 a.m. I walked past the security guard, up the stairs, past the reception desk, and made a quick turn into the first office on the left. Then I met the soon-to-be-departing intern who was going to mentor me through my first homestand.
And as could only happen in Cubland, the soon-to-be-departing intern — future three-time Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks executive Jay Blunk — greeted me with a “Hey, it’s going to be real busy here today. No one is going to have time to talk. Just sit down, be quiet and watch.” At least he gave me his chair.
First day on the job, and already I’m being told to sit down and shut up. Welcome to the big leagues — yeah, right.
So there I sat. Just watching. Quietly. Mouth closed. Eyes and ears open. And right before my eyes, it all played out — my up-close-and-personal introduction to Media Relations, Internal Communications, External Communications, Crisis Communications, whatever job title you want to insert here.
Exactly one hour into my Cubs career, the club announced that manager Jim Frey and third base coach Don Zimmer had been relieved of their duties. The manager who just 21 months before had led the Cubs to their first postseason appearance since 1945, was out.
Thinking back to that first day, it’s hard to believe I could have received a better education anywhere. It’s amazing to recall the cast that was in front of me as I watched everything unfold.
And the intern, Jay Blunk, of Blackhawks fame. That job could have been mine if I had mouthed off to him when he told me to sit down!
I was mesmerized watching the small media relations staff go into scramble/crisis mode. The press release being faxed … one at a time (no email back then) … to every Chicago media outlet big and small. The phone calls to every important media member to hustle to the ballpark for a press conference. Ned helping GM Dallas Green with some talking points for the media. Sharon, Ernie and Doris working the phones, and making sure everything was ready for the press conference.
I did get to sit on my butt again later that evening, as my baby brother graduated high school. From press conference to seeing my brother give his valedictorian speech to hearing his graduation commencement speaker — Deborah Norville — it was a day of awakening. How’s that for a first day?
What I learned after the fact — and I did get plenty of after-the-fact time with Mr. Frey, as he uniquely parlayed being fired in 1986 to becoming a WGN Radio broadcaster in 1987 and then the Cubs general manager from 1988–1991 — was that he wanted young kids brought up to the majors ASAP. He was tired of watching some of the veterans who had phoned in it.
Two days later — and two days after he was told his services were no longer necessary — Frey’s “want” became a reality. The Cubs brought up Jamie Moyer, who went on to pitch in 25 major league seasons, and Davey Martinez, who played in 16 major league campaigns.
So, in my first official act as a Cubs intern, I got to help Moyer and Martinez carry their luggage to the clubhouse. That’s what interns do.
Welcome to the big leagues.
Late last week, I alluded to being on the road to Fort Wayne. The reason: I drove over 400 miles roundtrip to meet Mark Prior for coffee.
It was well worth the drive.
It has been 10 years since Prior last wore a Chicago Cubs uniform. Think about it … 10 years have passed since he last pitched in a big league game.
There’s this perception that Prior burst on the scene and disappeared just as quickly, but it’s not true. Look it up … he was still pitching, albeit at the Triple-A level, as recently as July 2013. In fact, he has been in the game for all but a few months since starting his professional career in 2002.
Now 35, Prior is in his second season as the San Diego Padres’ minor league pitching coordinator. In a nice turn of events, San Diego has a Midwest League team in Fort Wayne – and Prior was in Indiana last week to watch the Fort Wayne TinCaps play.
We met last Friday morning at a quaint little coffee shop in downtown Fort Wayne and talked for over 90 minutes. Truth be told, I am writing a longer-length piece for another entity (I do work for pay!); since I was on this company’s dime during the trip, the good stuff is going in that direction.
That said, I am allowed to use “the scraps” for my site. I’ll whet your appetite a little bit now, and then provide more from our conversation after the big story is written and submitted. But let me say this: There really were no scraps, as Prior was very insightful.
Prior had a star-crossed career, no doubt about it. He was in the majors after just nine minor league starts. In his first full major league season (2003), he was an All-Star … a bronze-medalist in the Cy Young Award voting … and a Top 10 finisher in the MVP voting. After an injury plagued 2004, his career looked to be back on the upswing in 2005 – with 11 wins and a league-leading 10.2 strikeouts per 9.0 innings. But in 2006, he threw his final major league pitch.
As we all know, there is no point to playing the “What If?” game, as it hurts too much to think about it. So I won’t ask “What if Mark Prior had stayed healthy?”
But let me give you his major league numbers. He made 106 major league starts – roughly the equivalent of three full seasons – and went 42-29 with a 3.51 ERA and 757 strikeouts in 657.0 innings of work. He averaged 10.4 strikeouts per 9.0 innings and 3.4 strikeouts per walk. His career WHIP was just a bit over 1.2. He had three solid postseason starts in 2003. And he could even handle himself at the plate, finishing his career north of the Mendoza Line (.201).
Can I ask, “What could have been?”
But injuries took their toll. Prior kept trying to come back. After multiple surgeries and multiple rehabs, he pitched in 2010-2013 before his right shoulder made him stop. All along, the dream was to get one more time on a big league mound.
Now, his role is to get as many Padres farmhands onto major league mounds. He totally sounds like a pitching coach.
“During the season, I travel around to different affiliates,” Prior explained. “With different levels and different pitchers, there’s a little bit different emphasis. With the higher levels, it’s a little bit more evaluating how close they are. Can they handle being in the big leagues? Are they potentially a call-up from an injury standpoint (to a major league player)? Are they performing at a level that’s better than what is in the big league lineup?
“At the lower levels, it’s more focused on development. Right now, we’re here in Fort Wayne. It’s our low A-ball team. Our rotation … a lot of guys were drafted last year, which is good – because we have some talented guys. Three of them were drafted out of high school, and they’re pitching in the Midwest League and holding their own quite well. But it’s challenging as well; they were in high school last year. You’re talking about guys who should be freshmen in college competing against, in some cases, guys who are 21 or 22 and went to three or four years of college. So you’re working on their development from a delivery standpoint, and from a mental and emotional standpoint … getting them used to pitching and playing baseball every single day … playing 140 games in 150 days. There’s a lot more overall teaching for our coaching staff as well as myself and the other development staff.
“So basically I travel around to all the different affiliates throughout the year. Then we have the instructional league. We have roughly 130 pitchers in the organization, give or take, and 10 pitching coaches. I try to coordinate it all together and make it run smoothly.”
Over the course of our conversation, Prior answered questions at length about a variety of topics – both on-and-off the field. He talked about his struggles with dealing with his repeated right shoulder injuries. He talked about the constant support of his wife, Heather, and how fatherhood has changed him. He talked about some of his mentors in his career transition.
He also talked about his time in Chicago – and how he wishes he knew then what he knows now.
“I was so focused on pitching, and worried about my next start … but looking back on it, I wish I went out more and spent more time going around the town,” Prior said. “There’s just so much to do in Chicago, and I hunkered down too much in my house and waited for games to start.
“Chicago is an unbelievable town, and I loved every aspect of it. Heather and I – we have nothing but positive, positive memories. I was actually talking to (Padres player development special assistant) Moises Alou about it the other day. He went back to a game in Chicago earlier this year when the Padres were in town. He was like, ‘It was really cool to go back. I hadn’t been back there.’
“I think we did an unbelievable job of changing the culture up there – and at least changing the expectations. I’m very proud of being part of those ’03 and ’04 teams. It was a lot of fun. The few times I’ve been back, there are just a lot of great memories. I enjoyed being there. I enjoyed the restaurants. I enjoyed Lincoln Park, where I lived. I plan on bringing my family back – because I want them to see it. And I need to see all the new scoreboards.”
Prior was very candid and thoughtful in his answers. Most important to me, he seemed very comfortable in his own skin – which was great to see.
And our give-and-take was fluid. As an example, during one transition, I told him that I would come back to what he had just finished saying – but that I wanted to get back to something he had earlier touched upon.
Prior: “I know. I can ramble.”
Chuck: It’s OK. You can’t tell a story in one sentence.
Prior: “I used to be able to. Then you’d be under the air conditioner in the back (of the Wrigley Field interview room) going, ‘Oh great, he’s so bitter.”
Chuck: I wasn’t used to starting pitchers with one-word answers. They usually liked to talk.
Prior: “Maybe some of the short answers were because it was 115 degrees in that little room.”
Chuck: Now, I think they have a casino in there.
Prior laughed. He looks and seems very content. In time, I’m looking forward to sharing more of our conversation with you.
It’s not often when all eyes are directed on me. I’m good with that.
And I usually made it a point to stay beneath the radar and not be on camera.
But nine years ago today, I had a little live TV time. It was me – on ESPN2 – and all I had to do was look serious and print legibly. I don’t know if I’d list either as one of my strengths.
Back in 2007, Major League Baseball decided to start televising the First-Year Player Draft live. Although the actual drafting of players was done at each club’s “war room,” every team was asked to send representatives to the televised event.
For the first round of the draft, what every team was instructed to do was call in the draft selection on one of those old-fashioned helmet phones to the on-site club representative … who wrote down the name of the pick on an index card … which was then handed to an official MLB representative … who delivered it to Commissioner Selig for announcement to the free world.
Like I said, all I had to do was look serious and print legibly.
For a few days before the draft, though, that didn’t seem easy to do. I was terrified I was going to screw that up. The Cubs had the No. 3 overall selection, so I knew I was going to be on TV.
What was just as terrifying was the company I was in. So help me, here are the first two paragraphs of the MLB press release that went out on May 27 – a week and a half before the draft:
Hall of Famers Robin Roberts, Tommy Lasorda, Jim Palmer and Dave Winfield are among the representatives who are scheduled to attend the 2007 First-Year Player Draft on behalf of their Major League Club, Major League Baseball announced today. The first day of the Draft, set for Thursday, June 7th at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, will be carried live on ESPN2 from 2-6 p.m., marking the first time that the Draft will be telecast.
Others scheduled to attend include Felipe Alou; Steve Blass; Ellis Burks; Enos Cabell; Andre Dawson; Dwight Evans; Dallas Green; Ken Griffey, Sr.; Willie Horton; Frank Howard; Barry Larkin; Chet Lemon; Tony Oliva; Terry Steinbach; Darryl Strawberry; Walt Weiss; Frank White; and Don Zimmer. Each Club will have representatives on-site in Florida.
And then …
A complete listing of each organization's representatives and front office attendees, subject to change, follows:
Arizona: Rico Brogna, Luke Wren
Atlanta: Paul Snyder, Ralph Garr, Kurt Kemp
Baltimore: Jim Palmer, Scott Proefrock
Boston: Dwight Evans, Ray Fagnant
Chicago Cubs: Chuck Wasserstrom
Chicago White Sox: Roland Hemond, Chet Lemon
Cincinnati: Ken Griffey, Sr., Jim Thrift
Cleveland: Ellis Burks, Robby Thompson, Steve Frohwerk
Colorado: Walt Weiss, Clarence Johns
Detroit: Al Avila, Willie Horton, Tom Moore
Florida: Andre Dawson, Manny Colon, Brian Bridges
Houston: Enos Cabell, Jay Edmiston
Kansas City: Frank White, Art Stewart
LA Angels of Anaheim: Demetrius Figgins, Dan Radcliff
LA Dodgers: Tommy Lasorda, Ralph Avila, Brian Stephensen
Milwaukee: Gord Ash, Tony Diggs, Wil Inman
Minnesota: Jim Rantz, Tony Oliva
NY Mets: Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Morgan
NY Yankees: Frank Howard, Mike Thurman
Oakland: Terry Steinbach
Philadelphia: Robin Roberts, Lee McDaniel, Dallas Green
Pittsburgh: Steve Blass, Trevor Gooby
San Diego: Dave Winfield, Randy Smith
San Francisco: Felipe Alou, Jack Hiatt, Steve Decker
Seattle: Dan Evans
St. Louis: John Mozeliak, Alan Benes
Tampa: Bay Dave Martinez, Don Zimmer
Texas: Jim Sundberg, Steve Buechele, Mel Didier
Toronto: Rob Ducey
Washington: Barry Larkin, Tim Foli
How out of place does that Chicago Cubs entry look?
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed – and Bob Dernier was tracked down so I wouldn’t be considered the club dignitary. But I still was tasked with answering a telephone and writing down the draftee’s name with a TV crew in my face. It was the ultimate in multi-tasking.
I’d like to think I nailed it. The phone rang, and I didn’t drop it. The player name I was given – Josh Vitters – made its way from ear to paper. Vitters and his family were in attendance, and the camera went from me to the guy carrying the card to the Commissioner to Mr. Selig – and then to the Vitters family. And before the heartbeat slowed down, the Pittsburgh Pirates were on the clock.
I spent the rest of the first round ducking whenever the camera crew made its way around the room. I already had enough broadcast time for the day.
I’m actually very intrigued about the draft this year for the first time since my baseball days.
Thanks to MLB Trade Rumors, I was able to write six Q&A articles about potential early selections.
The draft begins this Thursday, and I’m hopeful that Miami’s Zack Collins, Florida’s Buddy Reed, prep outfielder Blake Rutherford, Mercer’s Kyle Lewis, Oklahoma’s Alec Hansen and Louisville’s Corey Ray all hear their names early. It would be nice to say I knew them early on.
If you would like to read any of those Q&A’s and can’t find them on-line, shoot me a note – and I’ll forward the link to you.
As always, thanks for reading!
Fort Wayne, IN – Yes, there’s a dateline on this edition of www.chuckblogerstrom.com.
And yes, I’m actually “filing” from the road … at the lovely Motel 6 … because I can … and because they left the light on for me.
I’m on a special assignment on behalf of a client of mine, and someday soon I’ll be able to share that story. For now, though, I have to be reasonably covert.
I have had a lot of time to talk to myself in the car, and a lot of miles driving east on US 30. As the miles slowly added up, I had no choice but to think of the good old days – when travel meant charter flights, and not having to carry your own bags, and getting to aggravate traveling secretary Jimmy Bank in a “just because” sort of way.
Early on in this writing career, I was asked by one of my loyal followers the following question: “Will you be soliciting ideas for future musings? Knowing your love for Montgomery Inn, how about a few stories of ‘Food I loved on the road?’”
While I liked the concept, my initial thought was: I don’t remember what I ate for lunch this afternoon. Can I really remember favorite foods from the other National League cities? It’s literally food for thought. So if you’re thinking that I had a lot of time to kill on the road, you’re correct.
What’s even better, I had to remember what I was going to type … late at night … here in Fort Wayne.
Without further ado, and in alphabetical order by city, my favorite road food memories …
Arizona: Twenty-plus spring trainings in the Phoenix/Scottsdale/Mesa/Tempe general area means many great restaurants to choose from. But I’m going straight to Don and Charlie’s because of the people. Forget that it was the baseball hub during spring training – and the people-watching. It’s all about Don Carson and his staff. I don’t necessarily miss spring training. I do miss seeing Don and his boss, Cooper.
Atlanta: I’ll do the best I can to explain this place. Do you remember the movie “My Cousin Vinny” where the menu said “Breakfast” for breakfast? Well, this one time in Atlanta, some of the WGN-TV production staff took me to this little place run by a woman and her daughter. Lunch wasn’t made-to-order. They came to the table and asked nothing more than, “Lunch.” And then this ginormous homemade platter magically appeared. This was the ultimate hole-in-the-wall experience.
Cincinnati: Barbecue sauce from the Montgomery Inn-Boathouse Restaurant. I don’t know how many times I was here, but I can guarantee you that I was here multiple times with Cubs beat writers (Bruce Miles, in particular) and multiple times with legendary scout Gary Hughes – who reminded me that you didn’t just come here for the BBQ sauce, but you had to save room for dessert. And that was always some “chip” related Graeter’s Ice Cream – such as strawberry chocolate chip. The perfect lunch – homemade chips with warm BBQ sauce, followed by ice cream. Awesome.
Denver: Denver has a lot of great restaurants. But I was lucky enough to try a new one – P.F. Chang’s – when it was still in its infancy. That first lettuce wrap … that, I remember. Today’s lunch … did I eat lunch?
Fort Lauderdale: I don’t have a choice here. If I don’t say something owned by Dan Marino or Don Shula, the locks on the doors will be changed.
Houston (it was a National League city back in the day): Only one thing mattered every trip to Houston – getting some quality time with Arne Harris at Shucker’s in the Westin Galleria. Oysters, shrimp and Arne. Nothing beat that combination. I miss Arne. I miss Shucker’s.
Los Angeles: I’m not going to lie. The press box at Dodger Stadium. Just to be able to say Hi to Vin Scully was worth the price of the dining room food. And most of the time, you could see a celebrity or two, too. At least once every series – and sometimes every game of a series – I saw and heard David L. Lander, who played Squiggy on Laverne and Shirley. Nothing beat hearing him yell “Down in front” in the press box – in his extremely Squiggy voice.
Milwaukee: The Secret Stadium Sauce. It’s this red concoction you put on burgers or hot dogs. Best of all, while the bottle said Secret Stadium Sauce, the label listed all the ingredients. Great secret!
Montreal (I was there way more times than Washington, DC): The 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts a block from Le Centre Sheraton. You could always find places to go after night games in Montreal. Nothing prevented a hangover better than a 2 am double chocolate doughnut!
New York: Grand Central Station food court. The absolute best people-watching spot anywhere. To me, nothing says New York better than walking around Manhattan … shoulders up … looking tough with all the people on the streets … then walking into Grand Central Station and taking the escalators. It’s the total New York experience. And the food court is pretty good, too.
Philadelphia: I bet you think I’d name a specific cheesesteak factory. Nope. Just saying cheesesteak. With authentic Cheese Whiz. I’m not picky. I was good for at least one a day.
Pittsburgh: Primanti Bros. Restaurant. Imagine the meat of your choice, topped by French fries, topped by cole slaw, topped by a tomato. It was messy, it was wonderful, and it was close enough to the hotel that you could walk off lunch.
St. Louis: The old Missouri Bar and Grill was one of my favorite all-time spots – as I had a lot of great bonding time there with my brother (Hi, Dr. Scott!). I’m sure the food is OK. My brother and I just enjoyed it because – at least back in the day – it was a hangout for umpires after games. Let’s just say there are some things I won’t write about – but they’re a great source of “Remember when we saw so-and-so” stories. Some of them were priceless. I may not put them on paper, but my brother will talk.
San Diego: Sadly, I don’t think it still exists, but there used to be a great steak place called Rainwater’s on Kettner. The steaks were as good as it gets. Even better, this was the place where I was introduced to a Wedge Salad!
San Francisco: I surrender. I couldn’t pick just one place. Heck, I couldn’t pick one food group – settling on a tie between the Italian district and Chinatown.