Friday, June 01, 2007

Classic baseball tale

Major League Baseball has a contingent in China now, making connections, exploring options, touring facilities. They are considering having exhibition games here next spring (which would be great by me, of course). This morning I went to a “press availability.” On the dais were Bob Dupay, VP of MLB, the Padres’ Sandy Alderson, Red Sox’ Larry Lucchino and Pirates’ Kevin McClatchy.

These are pretty big cheese. I actually know who all three of the execs are, two because they are really prominent and one because the runs the Pirates. I went mostly to see what they are up to, hear what they have to say, maybe put together a pitch for the WSJ or someone. I will also write up a column for That’s Beijing.

It was pretty interesting and informal and not too uptight. Afterwards, McClatchy walked by and I said hi and introduced myself as a Pittsburgh native and Pirates fan and he was happy and we started chatting. I’d like to hate him because his tenure with the Pirates has just been awful (though he did probably manage to keep them in the city at all and get that beautiful stadium built). I mean, the team is on its way to its 15th straight losing season, a baseball record.

But he was really nice, friendly and open. He said, “We are up on the padres 2-0 in the seventh last I heard.”

“Who’s pitching?”

“Shawn Chacon.”

“Chacon?”

“Yes, we just added him to the rotation. We got him from the Yankees last year.”

“I know who he is. I read every word Dejan Kovacevic writes [Pittsburgh Post Gazette Pirates beat writer]. I‘m impressed he’s pitching a shut out.”

He laughed at my fanaticism, which is, I admit pretty nutty considering all the circumstances. “He had 10 strikeouts through 7.”

We spoke about China a bit and then I said, “How do you feel about the Pirates this year?” I was considering whether r not to tell him that I think GM Dave Littlefield is an absolute disaster and asking if he cried every time he saw Chris Young (dominating pitcher for the Padres the Bucs gave away for a reliever they cut a few months later). Instead, I just stayed neutral.

“Well,” he said. “The Central is so down. We’re five games under .500 and only 5.5 games out right now.”

This was interesting since there has been all this chatter lately amongst Bucs fans if the state of their division should prompt them to go for broke this year since this little fluky window won’t stay open for long. Was he indicating this was their official thinking? Perhaps.

“The Cardinals are down,” he said, “so is Houston and Chicago, despite spending $300 million in the off-season.”

“You might have some interesting decisions to make in a month or so.” By which I meant whether they should actually try to trade to get players instead of shed them, as they do every year at the trading deadline. He evaded answering that one.

“Well, we feel good about our pitchers. The top two guys, Snell and Gorlezanny are going great. Maholm has pitched two straight good games. And Chacon has this strong start tonight… And we’re going to start hitting. It will come around.”

“LaRoche looks like he is finally alive.”

Wry smile: “He’s over .215.”

Then Lucchino comes walking by and McClatchy signals him over, and gestures to me. “He’s a Pittsburgh guy.”

Lucchino: “Another one? Great.” Sticks out his hand, gives me a big shake and smile. McClatchy says, “Larry grew up there, too.”

“No kidding. I didn’t know that.”

Lucchino: “Really? I talk about it enough. Love Pittsburgh! Where id you grow up?”

“Squirrel Hill.”

“So are you a a Taylor Allderdice graduate?”

“Yes.”

“Me, too. Where did you go to elementary school?”

“Davis and Colfax.. and you?”

“Greenfield.”

Yes! The guy running the Red Sox is from Greenfield. Man, this is so beautiful. I love living in China. Under what circumstances would I be having this conversation in America?

Someone else came over and we are all chatting a bit when I noticed Lucchino’s World Series ring, which is bigger than the Panther Hollow bridge. “I guess you don’t have to go to the gym to lift weights as long as you’re wearing that ring,” I noted.

“Yeah. Ha ha. It’s actually smaller than many of them believe it or not.” And with that, he slipped the ring off and handed it to me. I thought of Arlene and Greg and Nancy Solomon, my Red Sox fanatics friends who would likely give their left eye to be holding this thing and I looked it over. On one side it said “Lucchino” and maybe his title.. on the other it said, “Yankees suck!”

No. It actually said, “2004 Boston Red Sox, greatest comeback in baseball history” or something close to that. The top of the ring was a giant diamond encrusted Red Sox B logo. I handed it back. We chatted a bit more, said good bye.

I headed out and went to a Starbucks around the corner. I got a coffee, popped open my computer and found a WiFi connection. I was going to work on my next column, but first I wanted to check the score of the Pirates and Pistons game. 2-2 going into the tenth. Damn!

Someone said hi. I look up. It’s McClatchy, heading into Starbucks. “They tied it up 2-2,” he says with obvious pain.

“I know.” I pointed to my computer. “I’m following it here.”

“Oh yeah. Is it 3-2 yet?” the Padres had just stranded a guy on second in the top of the tenth.

“No,” I said. “They go to out of it.”

“How did they tie it up? It was already 2-2 when I logged on.”

“Torres came in 2-0 in the ninth and walked the first guy. You can’t walk the first guy! I was watching on the computer, but I couldn’t stand it anymore so decided to take a walk and get a coffee. “

He sounded just like any aggrieved, annoyed fan.

“No, no. You can’t walkt he first guy in the 9th, up 2-0. Terrible.”

He went in, got a coffee, came back out, asked for an update, said good bye and went back to the hotel, presumably to return to streaming video to watch the Bucs fall 4-2 in 11.