Monday, September 30, 2013

A Headlock to Forget: A Robin Ventura Story by Brennan Jones

I can remember as a child growing up, we used to always say “my dad could beat up YOUR dad!” and living in my neighborhood, we used to actually see if that statement held any truth. I recall seeing a few dads walking with their sons with tails tucked between their legs, as little Timmy’s bold prediction was soon found to be false. Another memory I am fond of, was my undying love for the Chicago White Sox. Every kid on the block LOVED “The Big Hurt” Frank Thomas, a hulk of a man, and an amazing ball player. As a kid I was never fond of rooting for the clear cut favorite. I was more of a Knicks fan than a Bulls fan, Eagles over the Cowboys, Pippen rather than Jordan...and because every kid on my block was after every Frank Thomas jersey, baseball card or any collectable, my guy was Robin Ventura.

At the sandlot everyone had their favorite player in mind as they pretended to emulate their hero on our beloved dirt diamond. The USA baseball team, fresh off of their Olympic gold medal in 1988, had an up-and-coming youngster who at the time had the longest hit streak in collegiate baseball history. He played the same position I often found myself playing (third base), wasn’t a “power” guy but had the knack for having a solid bat, not the flashiest glove but could play solid defense, and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox.

While everyone seemed to fall in love with this team—and who couldn’t with the likes of “Black” Jack McDowell, Ozzie Guillen, Bobby Thigpen, Tony Phillips, Frank Thomas and even eventually Bo Jackson—I rooted for the quiet guy in the corner of the infield, Mr. Robin Ventura.  The White Sox were so popular even Dr. Dre would put his “chrome to the side of your White Sox hat” and in 1992 that actually was a good thing. Everyone had the black hat with the white sock insignia on the front, even in Boston. Simply put, Frank Thomas singlehandedly made Red Sox fans forget what socks to put on in the morning.

One of the main reasons I was drawn to Ventura was the way he carried himself both on and off the field. He was not an exciting player, but heading into his third year he was already an All-Star and Gold Glove winner.  Ventura was never the most outstanding player, but he was a ballplayer’s ballplayer. He would get dirty and had a way of always coming up with a timely hit or clutch defense. He was a surefire up and coming player and already drawing comparisons to Mike Schmidt. A 90 RBI a year third basemen with a cannon arm, gold glove, and placed nicely in a batting order chalk full of promising talent. What more could you ask for?

Well, August 4, 1993 is what you could ask for. I honestly wonder if a six-year-old Robin Ventura would ask his 26-year-old self, “Do you think you could beat up YOUR dad?” I only ask this because the day after the tike Ventura turned six, Nolan Ryan had just pitched his second no-hitter. SECOND NO-HITTER!! Now everyone knows how the events turned out. Most still consider the beating Robin took at the hands of a man who was almost twice his age as the best (one-sided) brawl in baseball history. Funny thing about baseball fights is, it hardly EVER turns into an actual fight.  Usually it’s just a bunch of guys running from the bullpen and maybe a few pushes, but rarely is a punch thrown.

I remember the highlight (lowlight) like it was yesterday. I recall all the flack and teasing I took as a child.  It was like my own father got his rear kicked by some other dad down the street. I can see the slow motion headlock as Nolan reared his fists back driving them into the skull of a seemingly unassuming
Ventura. (I shouldn’t say unassuming seeing as HE is the one that charged the baseball LEGEND.) I just thought it was a joke, like they were in on it together, but sadly no. The joke was on me.  My hero was simply pummeled by a man twice his age. Not just any man either. This was an icon, a man who pitched seven no-hitters already before issuing the beat down Ventura rightfully disserved. I felt cheated. It wasn’t as if Ryan was head hunting, or he meant to hit Robin...the pitch just got away from him and hit Ventura in the worst spot, his ego.

That fight changed a lot for me. It made me look at my one time hero, like Timmy must have looked at his poor father. Left wondering why? Why would a young player with so much potential and such a quiet demeanor, charge a man who is in baseball terms, larger than life. Why would a 26-year-old ever pick a fight with a 46-year-old? Why did I idolize a person who would not only start a fight, but get his ass handed to him on the biggest of all venues for all the world to see and ridicule. That day, I threw out all of that highly sought after memorabilia. All the Rated Rookie cards, the Upper Decks, the Topps, the Donruss...all of them. My dad got his ass beat. And I wasn't going to walk home with him.

Brennan Jones has been writing slam poetry since his sophomore year of high school. A native of New Hampshire, he’s an avid sports fan with a distaste for the home team (minus the Bruins).

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