08/24/2004: Back in '98....
I worked for a company which had season tickets to Busch Stadium. And really nice seats too--included with the tickets were valet parking, a buffet dinner in a stadium club before the game, and you got waited on hand and foot during the game. No need to leave your seat (indeed, no need even to take your eyes off the field) if you needed a hot dog or a cold Bud--just raise your hand nonchalantly, and someone would scurry down to take your order and then scurry away to bring it back to you a few minutes later.
At the time, I was involved in a long distance relationship with a woman living in Norfolk, VA (about the only way I could have gotten into a longer distance relationship was to have fallen for a woman from the Left Coast), and one week while she was visiting I managed to score the company tickets and take her to the ballpark. It was her first professional ballgame, and I've often regretted taking her--after taking in her first ballgame in the lap of luxury, I can't imagine she'd ever be happy getting her own dogs and beer in the bleachers. But I digress.
I'm reminded of that stadium outing when I see that the Post-Dispatch did a feature article on John Mabry yesterday. Mabry was on the '98 Cardinals, and even though it was Mark McGwire who was fated to set the single season home run record that year (going yard 70 times in a wonderful summer's race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa), it was Mabry who delighted my girlfriend by hitting a long ball in that game (and thereby triggering the pyrotechnics that are statutorily required for home team homers; my ladyfriend, a fireworks enthusiast, was very impressed). Ever since the '98 season I've had something of a soft spot in my heart for Mabry, and it's nice to see him doing so well in St. Louis again.
Who would have thought as much back in the spring, when Mabry seemingly scuttled an opportunity to make the parent club and was assigned to Class AAA Memphis? Minor-league assignments for 33-year-old role players are not generally considered career advancements. A Creve Coeur resident, Mabry had to reassess his hopes of working in his hometown, at least as a baseball player.It's been fun to watch John in action both in Memphis and with St. Louis this year, and I hope (sentimentally) that he can earn a World Series ring to cap his career.
"It's always a real possibility when you get up there in age, as a bench player, you have to look at the real possibility that you might not be playing this year," Mabry said. "It happens. That's the game."
At the same time, it's the game Mabry loves and, at this stage of his life, the only game he knows. He was not giving up on it so easily.
"This is your life, this is what you love to do," Mabry said. "So for me to just take my ball and go home, that wouldn't be. ... Playing baseball is pretty much all you know. So, to go play Triple-A, I mean, it could be worse.
"I was still making pretty decent money and doing the things I love to do. I was treated with a lot of respect down there. (Memphis coaches) Danny Shaeffer and Dyar Miller treated me great. And Memphis, as far as minor league facilities, is phenomenal. I don't think it could have worked out any better. I went down there and worked on the things I needed to work on and got some results."
And there were extenuating circumstances. Truth be told, Mabry wasn't operating at full capacity in Jupiter, Fla. His lower back went out on him during the first few days of camp, but he never told anyone. With veteran players such as Greg Vaughn, Mark Quinn, Kevin Witt, Emil Brown and Colin Porter also in camp competing for employment, Mabry knew sympathy points would do nothing to advance his cause.
As it turned out, Mabry's decision to report to Memphis wound up winning him a big-league job. His back on the mend, Mabry got more regular work in the minor league camp and then started the season at a full sprint. He batted .338 with 12 home runs in 39 games for the Redbirds. On May 25, the Cardinals sent out Porter and added Mabry to their 25-man roster and 40-man protected list. Over the past three months, he has become an important and versatile piece of a team that will arrive in Cincinnati 40 games over .500.
Len on 08.24.04 @ 08:34 AM CST