Saturday, July 28, 2001

Through the Cracks: Baseball Stories off the Beaten Path by Steve Reynolds

Ex-Phillie/Devil Ray and Angels shortstop Kevin Stocker retired on March 5th—due perhaps to a travel hell that would drive most people to an insane level of road rage. Stocker agreed to a minor league contract with the Mets on Saturday, March 3rd. He booked himself a flight to Florida from his home state of Washington. That flight was canceled. The next day his flight to West Palm Beach was diverted to Orlando. Then the limo driver the Mets sent for him missed the pickup, and Stocker had to hire another driver to take him to camp. This apparently was the straw that broke the camel’s back—Stocker called his agent at 1:30 in the morning and said he was going to retire. "I don't think we've ever had a guy who retired this quickly," said Jim Duquette, a Mets senior assistant general manager. "I talked to his agent, who said Kevin doesn't have the fire and desire to get into shape to play at this level." He obviously doesn’t have the desire to travel ever again.

Mike Piazza is in commercials for Claritin and 10-10-220—so the next step, logically, must be a big Hollywood film. Except Piazza is the subject of this film. Go to Hell, Mike Piazza will likely star Ben Stiller as a hot dog vendor whose childhood friendship with Piazza has left him with a persecution complex—one that has him blaming the famed Met catcher for all that's gone awry with his life. The hot dog man becomes obsessed with plotting out his revenge and when he gets a chance to strike out Piazza in the All Star Game by winning a TV quiz show, his chance is made real. Go to Hell, Mike Piazza will likely go in front of cameras after the baseball season ends, which should be early this year for the Mets.

The Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park was intended to replace the aging Tigers Stadium with a place that would be packed night after night. Unfortunately for the Tigers and the Seattle Mariners last August 23rd, the stadium was packed—with flying ants. Tens of thousands of these insects descended on the ballpark during the first inning, staying long enough to catch a couple of innings (and maybe a couple of hot dogs). Most of the crowd of over 32-thousand fans had left due to the tenacious bugs by the time the third inning had rolled around. The Detroit bullpen took matters in their own hands, by lighting a fire that helped to drive the ants away. "When you looked up, it was a swarm across the sky," said Ron LeCroix of Detroit. "The birds were eating so good, they were falling on the sidewalk. They couldn’t even fly away they were eating so much. I’ve never seen anything like that." Fans who left didn’t get refunds—"[It] was just kind of an act of God," said Tigers spokesman Jim Anderson. "We’re treating it like a rain delay. Fans may get up from their seats and leave, but this is no different from that situation." And now we know the real reason why Juan Gonzalez didn’t want to sign a deal with the Tigers.

Ex-Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver was the honoree at a roast November 2nd at the Sports Boosters of Maryland Headliners Banquet. For almost three hours Weaver was teased by his former players and friends from baseball, occasionally making a snide remark when he thought a story was going on too long. Then to wrap up the evening Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer stepped up to give the last speech. He joked about Weaver’s height and reputation for drinking. This didn’t set to well with Weaver when he went up to the podium to give his own speech. He yelled that Palmer cost the Orioles a lot of games by claiming injuries he didn’t have. Weaver then went around podium and confronted Palmer directly, screaming at him before being led away by former Oriole Lee May. Jay Harris, the executive booster of the sports boosters, told the Baltimore Sun, "It was unbelievable. A lot of people stayed because they wanted to hear his retaliation, but this wasn’t what they wanted."

The Las Vegas Stars have changed their affiliation from the San Diego Padres to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and now they’ve changed their name. Looking for a way to stick out in the city that Bugsy built, the new team owners picked the 51’s as the name—as in Area 51, the top secret test site in the Nevada desert that supposedly holds a UFO and even aliens. "We figure if we get a cease-and-desist order from the government we’ll really make news," said Aaron Artman, creative director for the Triple A team. "But they can’t send it if they don’t admit Area 51 exists." Which, as all X-Files fans know, the government won’t admit. So look for some special out of this world promotions this season in Vegas. "You may be a purist, but your 5-year-old-son might like the alien mascot and your 12-year-old might like the music we’re playing," said Artman. "This theme gives us a lot of options. Maybe a space ship in the outfield. Or crop circles."

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