So, in 2004, we made a trade late in the season. Picked up this kid from Mississippi with a chip on his shoulder. A lot of the guys didn’t like him, but he hit well, which is what we needed at that point in the season. And he remains the only player who ever sought me out because he wanted to get to know me. He couldn’t field a lick, but he could swing it.
He always swung hard. Always. You could say what you wanted to say about him, but he never got cheated. He’d walk up to the plate, swing out of his 5’8″ ass, if he hit it it went zing – on a line – and if he didn’t, you could feel the breeze in the press box.
One night, we were in the middle of a winning streak. It was one of those playoff situations where we needed to win every night, and it was late August and the playoffs were right around the corner. We trailed by two heading into the bottom of the ninth, two men reached base, and he strode to the plate. You knew he was going to win it with one swing, and I think I aced the call, saying he hit it halfway to Tonganoxie or something like that. We won that night, and I think it was nine in a row before we lost.
The funny thing for him, that no one saw, is when he hit the homer, he started jumping up and down with his mouth open. He was missing some teeth but had a false plate in there, and when he jumped up and down his teeth fell out. Only in indy ball would you see a guy looking for his teeth after he assaults a baseball to win on a walk-off.
The next season, we came back. Apparently he’d believed the hype. The guy with whom I’d bonded the year before became a little harder to deal with. But he still swung the bat with aggression – he never got cheated.
In spring training, our official scorer charged him with an error on a ground ball. The day after the game, I came in late – I’d had some dental work done and was still way numb. I walked into the ballpark and met a reporter from the Kansas City Star, Mike DeArmond. Mike was asking me some questions when the player walked by.
“Hey, what was with that error last night?”
I thought he was kidding. It was pretty cut and dried. “Nothing, man. Make the play, it’s not an error.”
“I think y’all are a little racist up in the press box.”
“Excuse me, Mike.” I followed the player into the locker room. “You want to say that to my face?” He made a beeline for his locker, which was filled with bats.
As quick as I caught up with him, half the team was holding him back; the other half had me. We didn’t get into it. He called me up later and we met on the concourse, and he apologized to me – he was the same friendly guy I had known.
But when I think of him, I don’t think of that. I think of the homer, the massive swing that sent us into the playoffs, and never getting cheated. I hope wherever he is he isn’t getting cheated, that he’s getting the most out of his life.