Sunday, November 14, 2010

Did I really pay $186.70 for this?

Dateline: July 26, 1997
Location: Fenway Park, Boston, MA

Ah, the Red Sox beat us again. Thankfully it's an early game and players shower and leave the Clubhouse pretty quickly. It's a Saturday night in Boston you see, a chance to get out, forget about the loss and live it up a bit. I love these days because players who might normally come in our training room for a post-game treatment aren't really inclined to do so tonight. Everybody making arrangements. I figured I'd just go back to my hotel room and relax my aching body. The Visiting Clubhouse staff in Boston is awesome and always prepare a great post-game spread for us. As I'm cleaning up the Training Room, I can smell that food and can't wait to get at it. Protocol in the Big Leagues is players eat first unless someone who gave it up or took an O-fer upends the spread table first. Staff always eats last, and yes I have been fined many times for jumping the gun. I have heard the nickname "spread killer" more than once in my career. Ha!

As we're leaving Fenway, one of our players (yes, you have to wait for the book on this one) yells to me "Hey Frenchy, what are you doing tonight?" I shrugged my shoulders thinking how nice a night with SpectraVision would be. "Nothing buddy, what's up?" I answer. "Dinner.......tonight.......10:00.......lobby." "Cool, thanks" I reply. (Sponsorship! I love it!) I grin as I know dinner tonight for 4 of us will run upwards of $2,000 - these guys are so good to me.

Getting out of the shower in my hotel room (sorry for the visual) and trying to decide what to wear, we still have to travel to Cleveland for 3 games and I don't want to run out of clean shirts on this trip. Five-star hotel dry cleaning is a bitch. My mind wanders, knowing I'll be drinking tonight, if I should forego the pain meds for tonight. Yes, as you can imagine, 162 game season can be tough on the body and it's only July. No one could even fathom the muscle therapist breaking down. "No pressure, Bill" I say to myself. My thoughts of chemistry are interrupted by a knock on the door. "No way I could be late" I thought. In MLB, if you're not 15 minutes early, you're late. And I have never been late. "Housekeeping" I thought, "a mint on my pillow? a player stopping by for a pre-dinner drink?" As I walk towards the door a female voice in the hallway says "Frenchy, are you there?" A bit shocked I stammer "yeaaah" as I peer through the keyhole. I'm staring face to face with a very attractive 6 foot blonde woman. "What could she want?" I thought. I open the door and she says "Hi Frenchy, I'm Sandy". I must have been frozen in time and given her a bit of the "deer in the headlights" look. "Aren't you going to invite me in?" she asks. "Sure" I say. She is well enhanced, wearing a skin tight black velour jumpsuit. She walks in and sits on my bed. Now at this point, I'm thinking to myself "What if this woman should have a sudden stroke or heart attack, in MY room??" Chance are it won't happen I reason but how could I possibly explain her presence in my hotel room? My mind is sharp and cloudy all at once. "How can I help you?" I ridiculously ask. "Some of your friends thought you might like some company" she coyly responded. Now please understand, I'm a 39 year old family man.

Oh no, there they are again. Those two little bastards sitting on my shoulders who talk to me. You know the ones, that grinning little bastard with the pitchfork on my left shoulder and the smiling one with the angel wings sitting on my right shoulder. Sandy, sitting on my bed, motions for me to sit next to her and makes some idle chat but I can't hear her because the voices in my head are getting louder and louder. Now please understand, Sandy is well equipped and has a crazy rockin' body. The little bastard with the pitchfork tells me how wild this would be and that no one would ever know. "Do her, do her NOW" he yells at me. At this moment, I hear from the figure on my other shoulder "you're a good family man Bill, are you willing to blow up your life for 30 minutes of pleasure....? Maybe 20 minutes?" he asks and I finally think to myself, "OK, realistically only 8 minutes"? Thoughts of my beautiful wife in an apron making me an apple pie, waiting for her man to get home from his roadtrip confuse me. I can see my 8 year old son doing his homework, counting down the days till his daddy comes home. These voices in my head are screaming at me while I still worry about Sandy keeling over off the bed.

It finally occurs to me, Sandy came to me compliments of some of my team mates. Some who truly want me to enjoy myself but others wanting to see if I like women. The bickering in my cerebellum is halted immediately when I come up with a plan. "Here's the deal Sandy" my voice creaking, "I'm going to give you $100 to sit and watch Sports Center with me for 1 hour, then you're going to leave here and tell everyone in the lobby downstairs what a great time you had with me and what a wild man I was" She stared at me quizzically, not knowing if I was serious or not. "Well, ok" she said confused, "can I hit your mini-bar?". "Absolutely" I said "have a Tobelorone too". It was one of the longest hours of my life, watching her breathing patterns, making sure there would be no need for EMS in my hotel room. After the hour,she hugged me and left saying what a good guy I was, "for some reason, I only meet creeps" she said.

I nervously went down to the lobby to meet my teammates, I smirked at them all with the look of the caveman they all hoped that I was. I told tales of madness and debauchery during dinner. "This is fun" I thought to myself.

I implore you....could I possibly have been the George Costanza of MLB?

When checking out of our hotel, paying my incidentals, I realized she had drank $86.70 of booze from my mini-bar. I stuffed the hotel bill in my suit pocket and just laughed to myself.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Shit, Frenchy Could Hit Better Than This Guy

Dateline: March 1997
Location: Angels Spring Training, Tempe, Arizona

During a rare break from my training room duties, I'm standing behind the batting cage with our Hitting Coach Rod Carew and 3rd Base Coach Larry Bowa. We're watching a non-roster invitee taking batting practice. It was a futile exercise, the player was clearly struggling. The bad body language between Carew and Bo could sink a battleship. Finally, after several more ugly hacks, Carew yells out "Shit, even Frenchy could probably hit better than this guy". Bowa, a great friend but ball breaking kind of guy who loved to stir the pot whenever he could, was all over me. My ego a bit dented, without thinking, I blurted out the words that would follow me throughout my Major League Baseball career "Shit, I could go deep in any park I wanted to". Sensing an opportunity to stir the pot, Bowa says "Put your money where your mouth is big boy". Carew, incensensed at this point, looks at me and says "You're on bitch". Everyone behind the cage broke out in laughter knowing I was clearly doomed. I had all of 30 days in the Big Leagues and I had uncharactistically shot my mouth off. There was alot on the line here: pride, paychecks, and wondering if my middle aged body could respond. I made some lame excuse about one of the players needing me in the training room and got my ass out of there.

A couple of players had streamed in off the field looking for treatment. I immersed myself in my work and never gave "the incident" a second thought. Two hours later I hear lots of screaming and a big commotion out in the clubhouse. Our 2nd Baseman Randy Velarde broke the news to me. "Hey Billy Bob (as the amiable Texan called me) we're gonna have a fun season." Word had spread throughout the Clubhouse of my gaffe. And so it began, Carew proposed a challenge - he would throw 20 pitches to me during early batting practice in every stadium we went to to see if I could go deep. Of course there was a heavy wager involved, nothing I'm prepared to speak about in this blog (you'll have to wait for the book!). Let's just say it's something I really needed and wanted to do.

We broke Spring Training and headed back to Anaheim for a couple of Exhibition games vs. the Dodgers. The first time standing at the plate with a Hall of Famer with evil intentions pitching to me was daunting. Let's just say I went 0 for California. Our first road trip was Cleveland, New York, Minnesota, and Kansas City. Didn't do it in Cleveland - too cold I thought. Now please understand this had become heavy Clubhouse banter and I was clearly in over my head. While on the plane flying to NY to play the Yankees, lots of players stopped by my seat to offer support. "You're a New Yorker Frenchy, this is where you're gonna do it". Carew sat in front of me on the plane. As each player left he turned around, gave me the evil eye, and said "you've got no fucking chance fat boy". I tried to relax and imagine me hitting a home run in Yankee Stadium - a place where I spent my youth in the bleachers. I thought about all those years sitting in that Stadium with my dad, grandpa, and brother. Then I got the attention of the flight attendant and pounded another beer. It went so well with the pain meds I had before the game.

Waking up the next morning at our team hotel, the Hyatt at Grand Central, as I lay in bed I reflected about my life. How I had gone from a fireman in Arizona to hitting in Yankee Stadium. Very heady stuff for a kid from Brooklyn. As the players filed into Yankee Stadium that afternoon it was hootin' and hollerin' all around. "It's Frenchy vs. Carew" they yelled. My stomach was in knots. I was shagging in the outfield until it was my turn to hit. Carew was pitching and motioned to me in the outfield to come in. As I ran in from the outfield it was the most surreal moment of my life. I grabbed my bat from the rack and took a couple of practice swings in front of the dugout. This is already the fourth Major League stadium I was about to hit in but somehow this was SO much different. This was Yankee Stadium. The Stadium. As I walked up to the plate, it was sheer madness. The players were having fun and were super loud. As I setteled in at the batter's box I wondered where all the air had gone. Yes a bit of hyperventilation had set in, you can take the kid out of Brooklyn but you can't take Brooklyn out of the kid. Carew's first pitch to me was up near my head scaring the shit out of me. "Get your fucking CHINS off my plate". Although I hit well, gapping a couple ground rule doubles to left center, I did not hit one out that day and the boys wouldn't let me forget it.

In Seattle to play the Mariners, love shagging here. Not a lot of players shagging out here today so I get in my "power shag", trying to run down everything. I'm in centerfield and Garrett Anderson hits a hard line drive out near me but it is tailing away from me towards right field. I'm really thinking I have a chance to catch this and really try to put a move on it. As I'm nearing the liner, it continues to tail hard away from me. I make the catch but unfortunately hear a loud pop at the top of my right hamstring. So many things go through my mind in that split second but I made the catch so it's ok, I'm thinking. As I go to throw the ball back in I realize I have blown up my hamstring. "This is not possible" I think to myself, schvitzing profusely. I am the muscle therapist on this club, there is no possible way I could blow out a hamsting after preaching to all my players about taking care of themselves. "I would have to take a commercial flight home if this ever got out" I thought. I manage to limp off the field. As I'm heading down the dugout stairs I realize I can't bend my right leg. G.A. says to me "Frenchy, you OK?" "Fine" I grimmaced, "got some players on the table". He smiled at me knowing I was full of shit. When I woke up in my hotel room the next morning I realized there was no way I could hit that day. Could I possibly be lucky enough to have players on the table at the exact time of early hitting? Now normally this is a scenario that I would cringe at, but not today. I made sure that as the players filtered in before early hitting that I would be really busy. No way I could hit today. On his way out to the cage, I told Carew that I was getting pounded that day in the training room and couldn't hit. This was the first game of a 3 game series here before we flew home. I was feeling very confident that I had fooled everyone until showering on getaway night 2 days later. While getting out of the shower, our 1st Baseman said "Frenchy, what the hell happened to you?" I said "what do you mean?" "You're entire right butt cheek and down to your calf is completely purple. Did you blow out a hammy" He smiled knowingly at me and just muttered "fuckin' gamer". I got into my suit quickly and got on the bus.

Could I possibly have been the George Costanza of Major League Baseball?

This would be the first of 9 years of hitting in every Major League Stadium. There is so much more to tell, I have only just begun. It includes, of course, my Dodger years with Manny Mota taking up for Carew.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The 33 Year Old Intern

Dateline: 1993
Location: Fountain Hills, Arizona

33 year old intern, huh? Yes, I reinvented myself at 33. I find it interesting today, when I'm interviewing someone for a position in my company, FlexibilityPRO, that when I mention that a 30-60 day internship may be required of them, they look at me like I'm from another planet. Some have even asked "sooo....let me get this right, I'm gonna work for you, and you're not gonna pay me?" And I explain to them "nooo, I'm going to teach you something that you couldn't possibly learn anywhere else...and I'm not going to charge you". Which brings us to ... the 33 year old Intern.

In 1993, I was a fireman in Fountain Hills, Arizona. In December of that year, I was involved in one of a fireman's greatest fears going to a call. The infant code. Unfortunately, the infant code was at my house. After unsuccessful CPR, we lost our daughter Taylor. After a short leave, I returned to the firehouse. It just was not the same anymore. My heart jumped every time our tone went off. I found myself laying in my bunk at night, staring at the red light bulb on the wall that would activate when we got a call. I was a mess. This went on for several months and I finally realized I had to go. It was time to find a new career.

I wasn't sure what I wanted to do but I had this very strong, overwhelming feeling that I really wanted to help people. While working my shift one day, I saw an ad in the paper for a Massage Therapy School in Scottsdale, AZ. After several weeks of looking at the same ad, I finally decided to make the call. Please understand, this was not an easy thing for me to do. I came from a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn. Most of my family and friends were either cops or fireman - there were no Massage Therapists. I have always been a bit different, my teen years were consumed with body building. I was pounding protein shakes while my buddies were chugging beers. "Willy's a good guy, just a bit different" they would say. I ignored all of the "yo, what are you friggin' nuts??" and other comments that wouldn't exactly be politically correct these days. I enrolled! Naturally, I didn't exactly BLEND in Massage Therapy School either. "Who's the rough edged Brooklyn dude with the buzz cut?" I could hear them thinking. I fought to stay there even though, while driving there many times I was dying to turn around. I thought to myself "how can I do this?" Find a niche, I thought to myself. This came easily to me as my nickname back home was "OP" (Own Program). If nine people walked to the left, I would most certainly walk to the right. This was no different. During a "moment" after class one day, we all sat on the floor and held hands in a circle. The instructor asked us to let our emotions out and describe what we got out of the class that evening. I was horrified. Disoriented by the smell of patchouli and blinded by the tie dyed shirts and Birkenstocks, I blurted out "I want to be a Therapist in Major League Baseball". Now these people, well-mannered as they were, couldn't help but snicker. I would think about that sometimes while standing in the outfield in Yankee Stadium.

Upon completing Massage Therapy School, I thought to myself "I must get this to athletes." Now keep in mind, this is 1993, there was no such thing as muscle therapy in Major League Baseball. "I WILL BE THE FIRST" I decided. By this time my family and buddies in Brooklyn were scheduling an Intervention, I'm certain! Only by the unwavering support from my wonderful wife Barbara, was I able to continue. "Follow your dream Billy" she would say.

I walked into the Tempe McClintock High School Training room unannounced and ask to speak to the Head Trainer. Out walks Paul Bradley, an affable man. "How can I help you" he asks. "I'd like to apply for an Internship" I mutter. After a moment, he scans my weathered face and asks "How old are you?" "33" I respond. "You're older than me dude" he replies. I start to think this isn't going so well. He asks "How can you help us?" I think to myself "I got nothin here". I nervously scan the room and notice an ice machine. "I can make ice bags" I blurt out. I notice several Gatorade coolers on the floor. "I can make Gatorade coolers and run them out to the players." He remains quiet for a few moments then sternly says "I can't pay you, ya know". "I don't want any money" I said excitedly "I just want to LEARN." "Be here at 7 tomorrow morning" he says wondering what just happened. I broke my ass there for 3 months, cleaning whirlpools, mopping floors, and yes toilets. I wasn't sure where I was going with all this, but I plodded on. Then one day Paul Bradley introduced me to a gentleman "This is Jim Merrick, Pitching Coach for the Milwaukee Brewers Rookie ball team." My stomach churned, "no way", I thought. So this is why I'm here. Turns out Jim Merrick had a painful hip. "What do you do" asked Jim. Before I could respond, the trainer blurts out "he's a rub guy." I got Jim on the table and treated him for about 30 minutes. It was at this moment that I knew I wasn't just a rub guy. I wasn't going to massage him, I was going to release his hip muscles. He gets off the table and walks across the Training Room to test out his "new hip". He turns around, looks at me and says "Would you mind working on some of our players?"

Somehow, all those snickers faded away...

So when a prospective employee sits in my office, questioning a short internship, it just makes me smile. I spent 14 months in the Minor Leagues, working for no pay. When times were good I would be rewarded with soggy Subway sandwiches and team T-shirts. I knew I was destroying my family's financial stability, but I simply could not stop now. My wife would ask "Any chance of a paycheck soon?" my answer... "Soon I think." I drove up to Helena Montana on my own dime and spent the summer in a damp basement of a host family while my bank account drained. It didn't matter though, I was learning. I shadowed the Trainers incessantly, almost stalking them. I became a human sponge, I soaked up every bit of information I possibly could and kissed everyone's ass - from the groundskeeper to the scoreboard guy. You can do anything you want to me right now, it doesn't matter. I'm gonna be in the Big Leagues one day.

It's never too late to start over...... said the 33 year old Intern.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

And So It Begins.....

Standing in Center Field With a Latte .... What the Hell Does That Mean?
Dateline: Friday, May 23, 2003
Location: Miller Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
We just flew in from playing the Rockies @ home in Dodger Stadium. Team Hotel is the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Milwaukee. Quite a change from when I was in the American League with the Angels. We stayed at the Hotel Pfister circa 1893. This is a true landmark. A property filled with gold gilded ceilings, straight out of "The Shining". You could easily see creepy little kids on tricycles if you let your mind wander. Lots of players wouldn't stay here, particularly our Latin players because of the hotel's reputation for being haunted. I think about this every time we come to play the Brewers, glad to be at the Hyatt tonight.
I wake up at 6:30am, not having remembered that we traveled after last night's game and I realize this is not my bedroom in Coto de Caza CA. I amble over to the door to check what city I'm in. Ahhhh, Milwaukee. My gluttonous thoughts immediately kick in. Brats!! Shower up and wander down West Kilbourn Avenue in search of a Starbucks. Found one. Nice. As I sit over my quad Americana I notice the familiar ache in my hands and wrists. Gonna need some help getting through work today... More on this later.
Training staff shows up in the hotel lobby on the road at 12 noon for a 7pm game this evening. We pile into a taxi and make our way to the park. The visiting clubhouse in Milwaukee is a great one, every player likes coming here. Big Training Room...and did I mention Brats?? One detractor however, unlike most stadiums, there is no runway from the Clubhouse to the Dugout. Whoever is unlucky enough to have the corner locker (usually a rookie) is literally about 6 feet away from the dugout. Ha, change quick!
We get to the park about 12:30pm and begin the load in. Rows and rows of our training room equipment awaits us, ready to be unpacked. I'm lucky enough to be part of a great training staff. Stan Johnston (Head Trainer), Matty Wilson (Assistant Trainer) Pat Screnar (Physical Therapist), Todd Claussen (Strength and Conditioning Coach), myself (Muscle Therapist), and Hideyuki Fukazawa (Japanese intern). We are all proud of working under the direction of Medical icon and "Tommy John" surgery pioneer Dr. Frank Jobe. First order of business for the load in...Matty Wilson plugs in our stereo and BLASTS "Black Betty". Now we know the day will be OK. We lay out every possible thing our players will need today, from band aids to ice packs to the docs injectibles - we're the Dodgers, we don't miss a thing. The visiting clubbies marvel at the size of our training staff. Once the load in is complete, it's now "our" time for about an hour. Time to remember that you're a husband, dad, and human being. My mind wanders to my "other" life. My beautiful wife Barbara and great 13 yr old son Will. This is where my ritual begins. It's only 2 hours into the work day and I already need my "me" time. I like to call it my "FU" time. It's now 1:45pm. Our Disabled List guys are starting to filter in and some of the rookies have figured out that getting treatment later in the day when the "Big Boys" are in is not a good idea. I'm due on the field at 2:30pm for "early hitting". This is the time when rookies and DL guys and guys who just haven't had a lot of at bats get extra hitting. This is also the time when I get to hit. I have been blessed to take batting practice, take infield throws at first base and shag batting practice in every National League and American League Stadium. 36 in all if I can remember correctly....more on that later.
In every stadium we go to, I grab a cup of coffee and my cell phone and walk the field. This is a special time for me, probably because I never thought I would ever be able to experience this. It is an incredibly surreal feeling. I stand in the outfield, looking towards home plate at a completely empty stadium. This is Baseball, I am reminded. The smell of the grass, the thought that in 5 hours this place will be rocking. But right now, not so much. I can hear the birds chirping sitting on the seats behind me. I am enjoying this moment immensely. It is a healing moment. A cathartic moment. A "me" moment.

I am awakened from this reverie by my cell phone. I answer it. It's my wife Barbara calling from work back home in CA. She says "I didn't check the schedule yesterday, where are you?"

My answer of course is.... "STANDING IN CENTER FIELD WITH A LATTE."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Thanks for Visiting

Thanks for visiting "Standing in Center Field With a Latte" . A bit of a different title, and of course I'll explain how it came about in the near future. This is a story about a kid who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. , sitting in the bleachers of Yankee Stadium with his Dad and brother. (from now on will only be referred to as "The Stadium"). At some point in his life, he finds himself playing catch with his son in centerfield of The Stadium, numb and emotional from the experience. These are stories you have never heard before, and will never hear again. These are true stories... hilarious stories, sad stories, my stories.
I have had so many people tell me that they wished I would put my career into a book.
I thought a blog might be nicer. These are true accounts of my 12 years in a Major League Baseball Training Room. They won't always be easy to write, or to read.
These are stories of the high life, terrible lows, death and addiction.

This blog will make you laugh a lot, cry a bit, and show you some of the dark side you may never have thought about.