It was March 30, 1992 – a date that is easy for me to remember (and if it doesn’t ring a Bell, read on) – and my aunt, uncle and their two sons were visiting Arizona during a spring break trip. That afternoon, they came to old HoHoKam Park to watch a Cactus League affair.
Truth be told, my uncle was – and still is – a huge White Sox fan. My cousins were raised Sox fans, too. So they came to soak up the atmosphere and the Arizona sun – since their beloved Pale Hose were still training in Sarasota, Fla, at that time.
I arranged for my younger cousin, who was 14 years old, to serve as the Cubs’ batboy for the day.
One of the perks of working in the position I was in was that I had access to arranging things like that. It was awesome to watch a kid’s face when you brought him into the clubhouse, introduced him to some players, and knew that he was about to embark on one of those quote-unquote memories that last a lifetime.
And sometimes those memories also were really, really special … for me.
On this particular afternoon, I was looking forward to a postgame dinner in Scottsdale with family members. The end of spring training was just days away, the sun was shining, and it was great to see my Sox-loving cousin picking up bats and running baseballs to the home plate umpire while donning a Cubs batting helmet.
So there we were, about to start the top half of either the 2nd or 3rd inning, when I looked up and saw my cousin jogging to the plate. I didn’t think anything of it, other than wondering why he was going to talk to the catcher and/or the home plate umpire with the Cubs defense on the field. On top of that, he wasn’t delivering extra baseballs to the umpire.
Just like that, instead of heading back to the dugout, I saw my cousin start jogging up the first base line toward the first base umpire. My jaw literally dropped. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. My bright, 14-year-old, Sox-loving cousin had fallen for a spring training prank.
I can’t say this any other way: My bright, 14-year-old, Sox-loving cousin was being sent from umpire to umpire looking for the key to the batter’s box.
It was a trick I’d seen pulled before on some unsuspecting kid eager to be there – but not one I was planning to see for dinner. I was trying to suppress laughter while realizing I’d have to explain to my aunt and uncle that I had nothing to do with this.
And then … the jog across the diamond from the first base umpire to the third base umpire. My cousin wasn’t in slow motion, yet the “Chariots of Fire” theme was ringing in my head.
After talking to the third base umpire, my cousin started back toward home plate – and stopped … suddenly … mid step. Light dawns on marble head. There is no key to the batter’s box.
The walk of shame back to the first base dugout was priceless. The cousin-caused delay of game was a good 60-to-90 seconds in the making.
By now, I’m thinking: Dinner is going to be outstanding.
About an inning later, the press box phone rang. It was Arlene Gill, the Cubs’ executive assistant to the general manager. “Come down here. Larry wants to see you.”
I immediately headed downstairs and outside the park to our front office trailer – which looked like the Partridge Family bus without the cool paint – and went to see general manager Larry Himes. He informed me the club had just traded George Bell to the White Sox in exchange for Sammy Sosa and Ken Patterson. He had this big grin on his face when he said Sosa’s name, telling me “you’re going to love this guy.”
The trade was to be announced after the game. I then went to write the press release and coordinate the timing of the announcement with my White Sox counterpart.
And now, for a break in this story.
The Sosa interview earlier this week also brought back memories of the Sosa/Bell trade for other people on the scene at HoHoKam Park that March afternoon. Two in particular even talked about it on Facebook – Ernie Zevallos, the facility’s head of security, and former Cubs athletic trainer John Fierro.
With their permission, I am including this exchange for your viewing and amusement pleasure:
Ernie Zevallos Brought back a lot of great memories.... I was there at the clubhouse door, when George Bell came out of the office pissed off... stormed into the clubhouse, grabbed his stuff and left... then came Sammy.... polite as can be... he was always good to me
John Fierro: Lol ...if you remember George sprained his ankle that day totally botching a fly ball. Larry Himes about had a cow when i told him I was taking George for x-rays. "It better not be broken, I just traded his ass"! I had both Larry and George pissed at me that day!
Now, back to the story.
After the game, I found my aunt, uncle and cousins on the concourse to tell them I’d be a little late for dinner due to the trade.
I don’t know who had the more stunned look: My cousin – still reeling from falling for the prank – or my uncle, after learning his team had traded away Sosa.
There was some good dinner conversation that night. Thankfully, I remembered to carry the batter’s box key in my pocket – just in case.